Tuesday's launch of Lexus' flagship LS460 in Japan marks a major milestone for Toyota's luxury brand, as the company tries to duplicate its success in the U.S. in other key markets, including its home turf of Japan and Europe.

After unveiling the LS460 in Tokyo, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe told the assembled press that the new LS would lead the company's efforts to establish Lexus as a global premium brand, saying that he expects Lexus worldwide sales to surpass the 500,000 unit mark in 2007. Lexus sales in 2006 are expected to be in the neighborhood of 470,000 to 480,000 units.

Following on the heels of its Japanese market debut, the new LS460 will launch in North America in October.

So far the Lexus brand has failed to make a big impact in its home market, trailing well behind Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and things will get tougher in 2008, when Honda launches its Acura brand. However, with 9,000 pre-launch orders on the books for the LS460, and with the LS600h due out in the spring, there may be reason for optimism.

[Source: Reuters]