U.S. Dealers Plead for a Smaller Lexus Crossover

Lexus UX Concept, Lexus Europe

If American dealers get their way, Lexus’ planned subcompact crossover — first shown in concept form last year — won’t be the strictly Europe-focused proposition the brand’s parent company intended.

The UX concept, introduced at the 2016 Paris Auto Show, shares its architecture with the Toyota C-HR and is already scheduled for production. We’ll see the model debut in Geneva next March. Lexus Europe is positioning the model as a new entry point for the brand’s utility lineup, designed to appeal to urbanites used to navigating tight spaces.

But European city-dwellers aren’t the only ones who took notice of the UX concept. Dealers in the U.S. are clamoring for a chance to bulk up their growing lineup with something small. It’s something Lexus is now considering.

“Our dealers are all over us to produce that concept vehicle,â€� said Jeff Bracken, general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA’s Lexus division, in an interview with Wards Auto.

“We’re in the process of helping our company understand what we’re leaving on the tableâ€� by not having a premium subcompact offering in the United States, he added.

Subcompact crossovers, especially premium ones, do not generate the volume of, say, a Lexus NX or RX model. The 52.1-percent growth figure quoted by Wards for the premium subcompact crossover segment (through November) includes the Chevrolet Bolt, which isn’t everyone’s idea of a proper crossover, nor a premium one. Still, there is some volume to be had in the segment, and even some growth. Sales of BMW’s X1 are up over 11 percent this year.

Looking at last week’s L.A. Auto Show, it’s clear Lexus wants to squeeze as many sales as possible from its existing model line. A three-row RX350 variant and an LX with fewer seats speaks to this effort. It’s not hard to see the company giving in to dealer demands, as long as head office can be assured of competitive volume.

Compared to such visually bland offerings as the X1, Audi Q3, and Mercedes-Benz GLA, the UX could make its sales case on style alone. That said, we still don’t know what the actual production UX looks like. While it’ll surely share the TNGA platform used by various late-model Toyota products, Lexus could go a much different route than the vehicle seen last year in Paris. Telltale styling cues, including the world-swallowing grille, will surely remain.

Lexus sales shrunk by 6.7 percent in the U.S. last month, but the problem did not lie in small and midsize crossovers. RX sales remained more or less flat, coming in just 167 units lower than last November’s tally. Meanwhile, sales of the compact NX rose 5.5 percent for a new November record.

[Image: Lexus Europe]