By Samuel Ee
THE new Lexus RX350, one of the Japanese luxury marque's volume sellers here, has attracted a 'more-than-expected' 93 orders since it was soft launched at the end of January.
As a result, authorised distributor Borneo Motors Singapore is forecasting 2009 sales of 400 units of the popular crossover - more than 50 per cent higher than last year's sales.
The new RX350 - the third-generation of Lexus's luxury sport-utility vehicle (SUV) - features sportier styling and major engineering changes.
'Considering current economic sentiment, orders so far are slightly above expectations,' says William Choo, commercial director of Borneo's Lexus division.
Customers are drawn to the Lexus L-finesse design as well as twin improvements in fuel economy and performance, he says: 'The response has been encouraging and we expect to sell about 400 units of the RX350 this year.'
The monthly target is 30-35 units, including the RX Hybrid which will arrive by mid-year, Mr Choo explains. 'We have received very good feedback from customers so far,' he adds. 'With this full-model change we believe the new RX350 will become the leader in the luxury SUV segment.'
The 2009 forecast is significantly higher than last year's sales of 274 units (or 19 per cent of total Lexus sales of 1,442 units in 2008) and 2007's 264 units (15.4 per cent of the 1,710 in combined sales). The second-generation Lexus RX model was introduced here in April 2003.
Takayuki Katsuda, chief engineer for the Lexus RX350 and its RX 450h hybrid version, says the all-wheel-drive model underwent major chassis changes in accordance with one of its themes, 'Confident Driving and Dynamic Performance'.
'The suspension has been improved from MacPherson struts to new trailing double wishbones for handling agility with superb control and ride comfort,' says Mr Katsuda, who was in Singapore in the middle of February for the official launch of the car.
Lexus developed the new RX with a younger buyer in mind, he says. 'The development team targeted those in their 40s because we want to attract the younger generation.'
Currently, RX350 customers can be as old as in their 50s, although some are only in their 30s.
They are also family-oriented. Another interesting fact is that there used to be more male than female owners, but Mr Katsuda says the gender ratio has closed and is now almost even.
The original RX300 was unveiled in 1998. Since then, Lexus has notched up more than a million sales worldwide.
Despite the RX being Lexus's biggest seller in the United States, Mr Katsuda says the carmaker did not have to develop a different variant for the American market.
'The new RX350 is a global model. There is basically no difference between the American and Asian cars,' he says.
The RX350 cabin comes with luxury and sports trim levels, though, and 'Asian customers prefer the luxurious version' - which is what Singapore buyers get.
» Photos: Lexus RX350
» RX350: New level of luxury
This article was first published in The Business Times.