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Lexus aims NX crossover at German premium brands in China

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TOKYO -- Lexus will debut the NX crossover at the Beijing auto show on April 20 as it tries to compete with German premium car brands in China.

The NX will be the brand's first compact crossover and will be sold in global markets including Europe and the United States. It will go on sale toward the end of the year.

The crossover will be positioned below the mid-sized RX that Lexus introduced more than 15 years ago and will compete with BMW’s X1, Audi’s Q3 and Mercedes-Benz’s GLA.

The NX will be the first Lexus model offered with a turbocharged gasoline engine, a 2.0-liter gasoline unit. Other powertrain options will be a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter gasoline engine and a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Each will offer the choice of front and all-wheel drive.

Target customers for the NX are young, urban drivers with active lifestyles who want premium products, Takeaki Kato, the car's chief engineer, said in a statement.

Lexus said the NX is derived from the LF-NX concept vehicle introduced last year at the Frankfurt and Tokyo auto shows.

True to Lexus’ design language, the NX gets a gaping spindle grille, LED headlamps and swoosh mark running lights. Bold fender flares house standard 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels.

The vehicle is also the first Lexus to get a door handle with a hidden key barrel and integrated lighting.

Inside, the cockpit is equipped with a wireless charging tray for mobile devices. A new Lexus Remote Touch Interface System is also Lexus’ first use of a touch pad, instead of a joystick. Other features include a head-up display, radar cruise control and a blind spot monitor that alerts to rear cross traffic.

China challenge

BMW and Audi each outsold Lexus more than three-to-one globally last year, as parent Toyota's reluctance to introduce local production of luxury models in China raises prices in that market.

"Without a localization assumption and thus with a higher price in this entry premium segment, the Lexus NX will find it difficult to gain ground in China from its German rivals, namely the locally made BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA," said Zhu Bin, a senior analyst at researcher LMC Automotive in Shanghai.

LMC Automotive estimates Toyota will sell 2,720 NX crossovers in China in 2015, capturing 1.3 percent of the entry premium segment. While the researcher projects NX sales will rise to 3,763 by 2018, the model will trail growth in the broader segment, paring Toyota's share to 1.2 percent, Zhu said.

Lexus sold more than 523,000 vehicles gobally last year, a record that topped a previous best of 518,300 set in 2007. About half of the brand's worldwide deliveries were in the United States, where sales gained 12 percent to 273,847. BMW brand sales climbed to a record 1.66 million last year, making it the leader in the global luxury auto market, followed by Audi's 1.58 million and Mercedes's 1.46 million.
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