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New Japanese models target luxury

Japan's automakers this week unveiled new US models targeting the high demand for hybrids and luxury cars.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2006 11:31 IST

Japan's automakers this week unveiled new US models targeting the high demand for hybrids and luxury cars -- including an upcoming Lexus sedan that will rank as the priciest hybrid to date.

Toyota's Lexus LS sedan, which will go on sale in 2007, was one of several products from Japanese car makers unveiled at the New York International Auto Show intended to extend a growing lead in some of the most profitable niches in the U.S. auto market.

The new model, which will be powered by gasoline and electricity, has not been priced yet. Gasoline-only models of the sedan, typically $10,000 cheaper than the hybrid, will cost about $60,000.

"This is going to be positioned as the Lexus flagship," Bob Carter, US general manager at Lexus, told reporters at the show, after unveiling the vehicle on Wednesday.

Toyota, already the world's largest maker of hybrid vehicles, rolled out the new Lexus amid forecasts for rising gas prices this summer and a renewed consumer focus on fuel efficiency.

Toyota expects to sell at least 1 million hybrids worldwide by 2010, including at least 600,000 in the United States.

Rival Honda Motor Co Ltd, on Thursday debuted a new version of its Civic, which will run on natural gas and can be fueled at home with a device sold by Honda.

The No 2 Japanese automaker also introduced the revamped version of its Element small sport-utility vehicle (SUV). Both products will hit the market this fall.

US automakers have been losing ground to Japanese rivals, who have not relied as heavily on gas-guzzling SUVs for their profits and who do not share the same labor cost burdens.

Toyota is on track to overtake General Motors Corp as the world's largest automaker, many analysts have said.

It parks itself

Toyota is pitching the new Lexus hybrid as the "most technologically advanced vehicle in the world," with a massaging and reclining back seat.

The car's safety system includes a camera on the steering column that sets off an alert if the driver is not looking at the road when an accident appears imminent.

The car can also parallel park itself using a system of cameras and radar tied to the steering and braking operations.

Carter said the model will compete directly with the V12 sedans from Mercedes, owned by DaimlerChrysler AG, and BMW.

Honda's luxury Acura division unveiled two SUVs -- the new compact RDX and a restyled midsize MDX. Acura executives called the MDX a concept vehicle, but added it looks very much like the model that goes on sale this fall.

Nissan Motor Co showed off its 2007 Altima midsize sedan, the replacement for the brand's best-selling model. Its Infiniti luxury brand displayed a restyled version of its G35 sport sedan, which goes on sale in November.