Car-based crossovers are outselling truck-derived SUVs by a wide margin, but Lexus still sees a strong demand for models that offer true off-road capability. It hinted that it could soon increase its presence in this segment.
Toyota's luxury division entered 2021 with two body-on-frame SUVs in its range: the Land Cruiser-based LX (pictured) and the smaller, more affordable GX. Neither is a high-volume model, but both fared shockingly well in 2020. LX sales in the United States fell by 4.4% to 4,512 units, which is a great result in a year when double-digit declines were common, and GX sales increased by 9.9% to 28,519 units. Clearly, off-roaders are in demand.
"What we have seen at Toyota is that there's so much of an appetite for [off-roading] that I see that [moving into] the Lexus brand as well. There is an appetite, a customer desire, a customer push to see all brands giving them more options. I think it would be silly for Lexus not to travel down that path," explained Jack Hollis, the head of automotive operations for Toyota's North American division, in an interview with Automotive News.
He added that his team has identified a "white space" in the Lexus range that could be filled with an additional body-on-frame off-roader. He didn't reveal precisely what he has in mind, but there are a few possibilities we can rule out. We know Toyota is wrapping up the development of the next-generation Land Cruiser, even if the SUV might not be sold in America, and seeing a next-generation LX seems like a given, but we don't think that's what Hollis was referring to. Moving into the space above the LX with an even bigger truck is highly unlikely.
Similarly, the idea of a Lexus-badged SUV aimed at the Jeep Wrangler and the Ford Bronco is neat but unrealistic. Ford's hotly-anticipated born-again off-roader has captured the attention of executives, however.
"Holy cow! They sold out that thing, and I think there's a strong market out there for authentic off-road chops and credibility. We're seeing that with [the Toyota] 4Runner as well. I don't think it's any secret that [the 4Runner] is not all that new, but it continues to set records, and it continues to grow volume," pointed out Lexus brand head Andrew Gilleland in a separate interview with Automotive News.
Could we see a Lexus-specific version of the 4Runner? We certainly wouldn't rule it out, especially because making an upmarket variant of the SUV would help Toyota leverage the benefits of economies of scale. Admittedly, this is pure speculation, and such a model hasn't been announced, but it would make sense.
Regardless, executives are closely monitoring the demand for rugged SUVs in the United States.
"There's still a thirst out there for body-on-frame and authentic off-road [capability], so it's something we're exploring," concluded Gilleland.