In a shift signalling greater acceptance of hybrid-electric vehicles in Australia, demand for the Lexus UX SUV in hybrid form is twice what local executives predicted half a year ago.
Speaking with Chasing Cars at the launch of the two-door RC F Track Edition, Lexus Australia managing director Scott Thompson said that demand for the petrol-electric UX 250h hybrid “is running close to 60%” despite the company planning for just thirty per cent of buyers to opt for partial electrification.
Uniquely for this segment, the Lexus is offered in a hybrid format. The UX 250h (from $47,950, $54,737 driveaway) couples a two-litre petrol engine to an electric motor, generating a combined 131kW of power. A standalone petrol, dubbed the UX 200, is also available, making 126kW. The petrol version is priced from $44,450 ($51,062 driveaway).
Upgrading to the hybrid costs a reasonable $3,500 but the payoff includes both lower consumption – the 250h uses about a third less petrol than the UX 200, at 4.5L/100km – and the benefit of instant torque generated by the electric motor.
621 Australians have purchased a UX since the SUV hit the market in November 2018. That compares favourably with sales of the BMW X2 (645 examples sold) and the Audi Q2 (885 units), though the ageing Mercedes-Benz GLA continues to dominate this segment, accounting for 1,114 sales since November.
Among the Lexus range, the UX is already the second-most popular badge, with only the one-size-larger NX doing better.
Mr Thompson says that UX sales would be even higher if it were not for supply constraints affecting the hybrid model.
“We’ve been very fortunate. We have launched a brand new car in one of the fastest-growing segments,” he said. “If we could actually get [more] supply of hybrid vehicles, we would probably be in a stronger position than where we are now.”
When asked what the determining factor holding back greater sales of the UX was, Mr Thompson was clear: “we can’t get stock [of the UX 250h] at the moment. We are trying to recalibrate our ordering system.”
Thompson acknowledged that strong demand meant that Australians wanting to purchase a UX 250h are facing two-and-a-half month delays and said the company hoped that additional allocations of the hybrid would alleviate this situation.
On the contrary, demand for the petrol-only UX 200, which shares its two-litre atmospheric engine with the Toyota Corolla, has been more subdued than expected, accounting for less than a third of UX sales.
That is perhaps unsurprising, given the distinctiveness of the hybrid in this segment, and the fact that the UX 200’s entry-level rivals make use of torquier turbocharged engines: the Audi Q2 35 TFSI ($41,950, $46,939 driveaway) borrows the Volkswagen Golf’s turbo 1.4-litre petrol, which produces 110kW/250Nm.
In turbocharged cars like the Audi, the full slab of torque arrives at around 1,500rpm while the petrol Lexus UX 200 makes peak torque at 4,800rpm. Buying the hybrid model fixes this problem given electric motors generate their pulling power instantly – perfect for the cut and thrust of city traffic.
Despite the supply constraints affecting the UX 250h, Mr Thompson was bullish about the state of the Lexus brand in Australia. “We’re in a good spot right now – we are seeing the trajectory move from strength to strength,” he said.
The Japanese marque is on track to break through the 10,000 sales hurdle for the first time in 2019, aided in particular by the popularity of the UX, and volume from the three other SUVs which wear the Lexus badge. Combined, the UX, NX, RX and LX SUVs account for nearly four-fifths of brand sales.