Companies have already had access to petrol-electric hybrid vehicles through Lexus’s sister company, Toyota, which makes the Prius, recently named European Car of the Year.
Later this year, Lexus will launch the RX400h SUV hybrid, which already has 1,000 orders, even though no models have reached the UK yet.
On current orders, the hybrid variant would account for 20% of annual RX sales, but the firm believes this could stretch to about 50% of the model’s annual sales.
The RX400h is powered by a 3.3-litre engine assisted by an electric motor, based on the same principle as the Prius but this time focused on sporting performance. The off-roader, priced at an estimated £40,000 at launch, offers 268bhp and hits 62mph in 7.6 seconds, but achieves 34.7mpg and emits just 192g/km, less than some upper-medium fleet cars. In addition, it produces zero emissions at low speeds and when stationary.
Lexus has also officially announced that a hybrid version of the GS model is planned for launch in May next year as the range-topping sports variant, the GS450h, which will be powered by a 3.5-litre petrol engine and an electric unit, offering a combined 300bhp.
Fleet NewsNet also understands that in May 2007, Lexus is planning to launch a hybrid version of its luxury flagship, the LS, currently powered by a 4.3-litre V8 petrol engine.
It is likely the hybrid will also by powered by a version of the 300bhp system. There are even rumours that the firm’s hybrid power unit will be used in the SC430 sports car, as part of a major strategic commitment to the petrol-electric option, although this is not confirmed.
For this reason, the company claims it does not currently need to rush new diesel units into production, as the hybrid option offers the same clear benefits of lowered CO2 emissions and tax bills, with improved fuel economy but with the flexibility of a petrol engine.
The only model currently pencilled in for a diesel power unit is the IS, due to be launched later this year with a new 2.2-litre diesel engine which will produce 175bhp.
A spokesman for Lexus said: ‘People understand what hybrids have to offer and what the technology can do. However, we are not positioning the hybrid as an environmental option, although there are clear fuel economy benefits. Instead, it is about power delivery to offer a high- performance variant in the range.’