mark templin lexus vp Lexus has been the king of luxury car sales in the U.S. for over a decade, but Toyota's high-end brand will likely lose its crown in 2011, due at least in part to the March 11 earthquake in Japan.

Certainly, Lexus was already facing a great deal of pressure from rivals like BMW and Buick, but Automotive News reports that Toyota VP and Lexus Group Manager Mark Templin says dealers are down to a 30-day supply of most models, and that vehicle shortages will be felt as early as this week. The problem is that some key components from Japan come from plants that are still shut down as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Lexus CT 200h is reportedly close to sold out due to the issues.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Lexus ramped up the leasing business three years ago, and those customers will soon be bringing back their luxury rides in large numbers. That's good news for dealers looking for products to sell, but it's bad for customers who may not have the ability to purchase a new Lexus model.

The automaker is looking to ease this issue by offering six-month lease extensions. At the same time, Templin knows many customers will simply purchase their lease vehicle outright, and he's asking dealers not to gouge those customers. The fear is that a shortage of models will result in more demand than supply, which could then jack up the price of Lexus models to unreasonable levels.

Since the automaker appears to be out of the running for the 2011 luxury sales crown, it seems natural that Lexus will come back with a vengeance in 2012. But Templin says the automaker may never again grab the sales crown, since luxury car makers are aiming down-market to improve corporate fuel economy averages. Templin opines that it won't be long before a luxury car maker hits 500,000 sales in a year.

[Source: Automotive News – sub. req.]