Historically Toyota has opted to use the gasoline-electric mix to deliver maximum fuel economy above all else – take the Prius as an example. Lexus, however, has instead used electricity as an added boost to its gasoline motors, providing additional power while retaining modest fuel economy. The result are cars like the GS450h, which delivers performance equal to that of a V8, but with V6 fuel efficiency. As well, there’s the flagship LS600h, with a 5.0-liter V8 engine mated to an electric motor and a total output of 428 hp. This car, boasted Lexus at the time, was intended to deliver V12 power but with V8 fuel economy.
The problem says Lexus ES and LS product planner Ketan Renade is that sales are extremely slow. “We did studies and focus groups and people said, ‘hybrid equals mpg’”, says Renade. “Cars with 400 and 500 hp are great, but no one is buying them.”
The new ES300h is the first product to result from the new hybrid philosophy at Lexus. Unlike the recently revealed GS, which uses an electric motor to boost performance, the ES300h mates a 4-cylinder with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system to deliver 200 hp and 39 mpg combined. That’s well below the gasoline V6-powered ES350, which delivers 268 hp, although it’s also a 50 percent improvement in fuel economy.
The ES isn’t the exception either, but the new rule, with Renade nearly confirming a decision to axe the LS600 in favor of a less-potent hybrid powertrain. Speaking with AutoGuide at the recent ES launch, he said that, “If we did a future hybrid Lexus LS, it would go V6 hybrid.”
Will Lexus deliver a future LS hybrid? Most certainly, especially as Lexus only sells hybrid models in Europe where it’s trying desperately to win over buyers from the German brands. That said, look for an LS450h in the not-to-distant future.