Toyota delays U.S. launch of Lexus hybrid

North American International Auto Show
Toyota will delay the U.S. launch of the Lexus RX400 H, the world's first luxury hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle, until April 15.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus division said it was delaying the U.S. launch of a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its RX 400h sport-utility vehicle.

The Japanese automaker's luxury arm said in late September that it planned to begin selling the RX 400h hybrids early next year. But Toyota announced this week that it would put them on sale April 15, the federal deadline for filing taxes, as a 2006 model-year vehicle.

Lexus decided to delay the release to accommodate burgeoning demand for the SUV, which will be built at the company's Kyushu, Japan, plant, spokesman Bill Ussery said.

"We are attempting to increase the number of vehicles available at launch," Ussery told the Detroit Free Press for a Friday story. "We're in communications with TMC (Toyota) to negotiate a larger share of the global allocation, at least initially, to help satisfy demand."

Lexus said it has 9,500 confirmed orders for the RX 400h, 8,000 buyers on dealership waiting lists and about 46,000 potential purchasers who have indicated online that they want more information about the vehicle.

Pricing for the RX 400h hybrid has not been announced yet. The gasoline-powered RX 330 starts between $36,425 and $37,825, according to the Web site; most buyers pay a premium for hybrid vehicles.

Toyota plans to release a hybrid version of the Toyota Highlander SUV about 90 days after the RX 400h reaches U.S. showrooms.

Hybrids draw power from two energy sources, typically a gas or diesel engine combined with an electric motor. U.S. registrations for hybrid vehicles rose to 43,435 last year, a 25.8 percent increase from 2002, according to recent figures from R.L. Polk & Co.