What's the hottest Lexus that's not on the market yet? A gas-electric SUV that gets higher mileage and emits fewer pollutants than its gas-only rivals.
Lexus said this week that its dealers had taken more than 9,000 "pre-sold" orders for the 2006 RX 400h through the end of August.
That's "significantly more pre-launch orders for the 400h than we've had for any vehicle in our entire 15-year history," Lexus General Manager Denny Clements said in a statement.
Plans had been to sell the 400h by year-end, but Lexus recently pushed that back to early next year.
New birthing system
Lexus this week said it will provide wait-list customers with detailed information on manufacturing and shipment schedules. Customers will even get to take part in the birth of their car, Lexus said, as dealers will be able to assign a customer's name to a specific 400h before production and then track it through delivery.
Lexus added that a specific timeline for showroom models will be announced after pre-production prototypes are tested later this month.
Lexus, a Toyota division, hasn't set pricing yet but the 400h is comparable to a Lexus RX 330, which lists for around $36,000. Hybrids typically run from $2,000-$4,000 more than their gas-only siblings.
Lexus said preliminary specs for the 400h include:
- 270 horsepower.
- Mileage "significantly better" than the 28 mpg that an average compact sedan gets.
- New pollution controls.
"You can drive the 400h from Los Angeles to New York and back nine times and produce less smog-forming emissions than painting a room in your house," Toyota Vice President Irv Miller told industry analysts earlier this year.
Lexus hasn't said how many 400hs it plans to manufacture monthly, and industry watchers caution it may take some time before Lexus can deliver them to consumers.
Toyota said its other promised hybrid, a gas-electric Highlander SUV, would follow the 400h debut. It already markets the best-selling hybrid Prius sedan.
Honda, the first to sell a hybrid in the United States, has two models out and plans a hybrid Accord by year-end.
Other carmakers are following, particularly Ford which was first with a hybrid SUV. The hybrid Escape made its debut this month.
The industry sees hybrids as a platform to eventually use with fuel cells, which would replace internal combustion engines by combining hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity that would power a vehicle.
"Our hybrid system will also make up the heart of our hydrogen fuel-cell program," Toyota President Fujio Cho told an industry conference last month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.