By The Lenspeed Team
Lexus was first in the game for luxury hybrids. Resolutely sticking to the formula while its key German competitors focused on turbo-diesel technology, Lexus has taken a risky and unconventional path towards efficient motoring.
It seems it hasn’t fared too badly – since 2004 when the first-ever Lexus was fitted with a hybrid drivetrain (it’s the RX 400h), the company has sold more than half a million hybrid Lexus vehicles. What’s more striking is that in Singapore, Lexus owns a commanding 82% of the market share for luxury hybrids.
Having tried variants from both competing camps (hybrids and diesels), Lenspeed tends to lean towards the latter due to its simpler internals (just an engine) versus an engine mated with a battery. In most driving conditions, a diesel can at least match the fuel economy of a hybrid, if not beat it. Also, in terms of tractability on the road, the low-end torque from turbo-diesels is also difficult to resist, compared to the more artificial battery-driven torque of hybrids mated to largely more inefficient petrol engines.
Lexus has to contend with more sophisticated competition nowadays. While the Germans have focused on turbo-diesels for a large part of the past decade, they’ve also come in a strong way to introduce hybrid variants of their cars. Just look at the E300 diesel-hybrid and the 535i ActiveHybrid.
Shoring up their capabilities in hybrid technology, Lexus’ competitors are now gaining competencies in both camps. Worryingly, we haven’t seen any diesel engine from Lexus worth shouting about, which will continue to severely restrict their appeal in the European market. Also, with the advent of diesel-hybrids, this means even more efficiency than petrol-hybrids, beating Lexus in its own game.
Lexus argues that petrol engines will continue to be its bread-and-butter due to their inherently superior refinement. Would this be enough for consumers to pick one over a diesel variant, hybrid or not? This is one strategic decision we’d love to watch unfold.