IMAGE: LEXUS HYBRID SEDAN
Kazuhiro Nogi  /  AFP - Getty Images
Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe poses with the new Lexus GS 450h hybrid sedan in Tokyo on Thursday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/16/2006 9:48:11 AM ET 2006-03-16T14:48:11

Toyota Motor Corp. began selling the first hybrid sedan under its high-end Lexus marquee in Japan on Thursday, saying the domestic launch would be followed by a rollout next month in the United States.

The 2007 GS 450h also sets a record of sorts: the most expensive hybrid on the market, with a MSRP of $54,900.

Japan’s top auto maker has been expanding its gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain through its product lineup as it drives towards its goal of selling 1 million units of the fuel-sipping vehicles annually some time around 2010.

This latest hybrid debunks the image that ecological vehicles can’t zip around powerfully like sports cars, company officials said.

The GS 450h twins a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine with an electric motor to provide 339 horsepower — comparable to a 4.5-liter vehicle, but with the fuel economy of a two-liter engine, or around 28 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, Toyota said.

Toyota said the hybrid should be “be as quick or quicker than every V8-powered competitor in its class,” accelerating from 0-to-60 mph in 5.2 seconds.

“The Lexus brand must pursue the essence of luxury, and that includes cutting-edge technology,” President Katsuaki Watanabe said at a Tokyo showroom. “It’s a good opportunity to highlight the technological strength of the hybrid.”

Less pollution, noise
Toyota added that the GS 450h has 80 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new car, and that its fuel efficiency is 33 percent better than its V8 competitors.

The car’s noise and vibration level “is about half that of a conventional gasoline-powered engine,” Toyota said, because the hybrid is powered by the nearly silent electric motor when starting and at low speeds.

Toyota said the GS 450h will include standard features typically offered as options on the gasoline-only GS 430. Pricing for the 2007 GS 430 has not been announced yet, but the MSRP for the 2006 GS 430 is $51,375. That means a premium for the hybrid of $3,525.

The GS 430 gets combined driving of around 21 mpg.

Sales plans
Toyota said it wants to sell 1,800 GS hybrids a year in Japan, and 2,000 each in the United States and Europe in 2006. It also plans to launch a hybrid version of the LS sedan, Lexus’s flagship model, after the new gasoline version debuts this fall.

The GS 450h is the second hybrid offering for the Lexus brand, after the RX 400h sport utility vehicle.

Toyota, the world leader in hybrid sales, sold 234,950 hybrid vehicles globally in 2005, up from 134,690 the year before.

The world’s second-biggest auto maker has said it aims to halve the cost — and price — of its hybrid system to steer the niche powertrain into the mainstream and eventually offer the option across its entire vehicle lineup.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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