Lexus will launch a small Prius-based hybrid hatch at next January’s Detroit motorshow, Autocar has learnt from sources in Japan.
The new model is known internally as SAI but will be renamed before it goes on sale and will be based on the next generation Prius, also being shown for the first time in Detroit. The Lexus though will be a plusher, more comfort orientated model with unique and sleeker styling.
According to company sources it will bear some similarities to Toyota’s Concept X shown at the Geneva motor show last March. Most commentators wrongly believed this heralded the design of the next Prius but our sources indicated that it was really designed to showcase themes for the junior Lexus hybrid.
The SAI is likely to get a more powerful version of the Prius’ hybrid powertrain, which will be mated to either a 2.0 or 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. At launch it will probably have a nickel-hydride battery, but be upgraded to lithium-ion technology by the end of 2010.
Insiders have also admitted that the SAI was principally developed for the US market, however sources say that plans are now afoot to put it on sale over here as well. Lexus has been disappointed by the performance of the 3-series-rivalling IS saloon in Europe and now see the SAI as a good entry-level model for the global market, especially against a backdrop of high fuel costs. We expect the high-end hybrid will arrive in US showrooms by summer 2009, with European sales starting by early 2010.