As we noted in a May 2016 article, the future of the 2nd-generation Lexus CT premium C-segment hatchback has been the subject of much conflicting conjecture. In June 2014, Glenn Brooks of just-auto reported rumors of an additional 4-door sedan body style and of a plug-in hybrid variant. On February 2015, GoAuto.com.au‘s Byron Mathioudakis wrote about the possibility of a non-hybrid performance CT powered by the 8AR-FTS 2-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. This year, however, the rumor du jour is that the CT line will die altogether, to be replaced by Lexus’ 5th crossover/SUV line, the UX. As first reported by Autocar‘s Hilton Holloway on 24 May 2016:
Lexus could replace its CT200h compact hybrid with a new crossover model, says the brand’s European boss Alain Uyttenhoven…
No further hints about the replacement for the CT200h were forthcoming, but the LF-SA concept shown at last year’s Geneva motor show was a hint at what the CT200h’s replacement may look like when the current car reaches the end of its life within the next 24 months.
The August 2016 print issue of Motor Trend magazine suggests that the Lexus CT might not even survive that long. After a discussion of the latest critically lauded but money-losing North American Honda Civic, MT Confidential columnist Mike Connor writes that:
Less of a mystery is what will happen when the Lexus CT200h dies after the 2017 model year. Yes, they’re still making that thing, but not for long. Tens of people will be upset: Lexus figures it can sell them the CT200h’s replacement, a subcompact luxury crossover likely based on the new Toyota C-HR.
If Mike Connor’s name seems vaguely familiar, it is because on November 2014 he broke the story of Lexus’ killing the RC convertible in favor of developing a 3-row, RWD (GA-L?) platform crossover. Another of his MT Confidential print blurbs (this one from May 2013) suggested a Lexus-badged roadster sibling for the upcoming BMW Z5 and Mk5 Toyota Supra coupe.
Crossovers killing hatchbacks? It’s certainly happening in North America
Even as the crossover SUV craze – launched by the original Toyota RAV4 and Lexus RX – reaches a fever pitch of interest and increasing sales all over the world, in Europe and other markets, they generally and happily coexist with the lower-riding front-wheel-drive hatchbacks from whence many of those crossovers are derived. But, just as North America was instrumental in first kick-starting this trend, it is now seeing premium, luxury-brand hatchback demand cannibalized and even annihilated by its higher-riding, black-cladded and faux-skid-plated crossover brethren.
At Audi, for instance, the A3 Sportback is down to a single niche e-tron plug-in hybrid variant, the Q3 crossover becoming its de facto replacement. Similarly, the A-Class hatchback is not-for-North America, the B-Class Canada-only (save for the U.S.’s CARB-compliance B-Class Electric Drive) but a broad GLA crossover lineup is readily available in both markets. Fancy a small BMW hatchback? The 1-Series and 2-Series Active and Gran Tourers are all verboten here, but not the new, FWD-platform X1. And given the subtle, hair-splitting differences that mark Q30 and QX30 variants of Infiniti’s new Mercedes-derived C-segment entry, it’s hardly surprising that North America went for the more crossover-esque QX badge exclusively, regardless of ride height or suspension setup.
Even mass-market brands have seen some of this effect. As we recently noted,
…plans to offer the Mazda2 hatchback in the United States and Canada were cancelled literally at the 11th hour, after going as far as revealing U.S. EPA fuel economy figures and touting its North American debut at the January 2015 Montréal Auto Show. Most accounts suggest that Mazda simply decided that it wasn’t worth expending meager marketing and corporate resources on such a low-margin vehicle in a declining segment. Better to instead further promote the far more profitable and popular CX-3 small crossover.
Given all this, plus Lexus’ strong North American focus, it’s quite possible that the carmaker may have concluded that, once launched, UX would obliterate CT sales and that developing a new CT would be a waste of time and resources. Also, for the record, and as of this writing, Toyota has filed no further CT-related trademarks other than the original CT 200h.
But what about Europe?
The CT line is arguably the most Euro-centric Lexus ever conceived. Its compact size, use of Toyota’s C-segment New MC platform, world premiere at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show and long-lead press preview in Paris, France all certainly attest to that. Yet, as Autocar recently noted:
With sales of around 10,000 per year, the CT200h has not broken into the booming compact premium market in the way that Lexus had hoped, (the brand’s European head Alain) Uyttenhoven has admitted. That market segment is worth around 750,000 cars per year in Europe.
Indeed, the CT 200h’s introductory 2011 calendar year was the only one in which its European sales (16,980) exceeded those in North America (15,731). Every other year after that, North American CT sales have surpassed European totals, even as the model’s roughly 64,300 European sales from launch thru 30 April 2016 rank it second only to RX h among Lexus hybrid sales totals in the Old Continent.
But does the death of CT / launch of UX timeline really make sense?
Connor’s suggestion that 2017 would be the final model year for the Lexus CT begs the question of when UX would go on sale. For this, we need to look at a couple of reference points.
The first of these is the launch schedule of Toyota’s 4th-gen (XA40) Toyota RAV4 versus its more luxurious Lexus NX sibling. The latest RAV4 was publicly introduced at the November 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, almost 1.5 years before the Lexus NX’s April 2014 Beijing Auto Show reveal. Similarly, the RAV4 went on sale in North America on January 2013, just over 1.5 years ahead of the NX’s arrival at dealers in November 2014. If, as most pundits suspect, the Lexus UX is an offshoot of Toyota’s C-HR lower-C-segment crossover, and if Lexus UX also follows Toyota C-HR by about 1.5 years, then we have an autumn 2017 public auto show debut (Frankfurt, Tokyo and Los Angeles being the likeliest venues), followed by an autumn 2018 (2019 model year) debut.
Perhaps more logical is to look at the tentative launch cadence and calendar for Lexus’ future new-generation models. Yours truly did just that for Lexus’ sedan lines in a Lexus Enthusiast forums post. With the 5th-gen LS Hybrid pencilled in for early March 2017’s Geneva Motor Show and 7th-gen ES probably slotted for late March 2018 in New York, we get further confirmation of sorts for an autumn 2017 auto show unveiling for the Lexus UX. The year-long gap between the Toyota C-HR’s public unveiling (March 2016 at the Geneva Motor Show) and its U.S. spring 2017 on-sale date is perhaps excessive for Lexus UX, though, with the latter more probably going on sale in late winter/early spring 2018, just a year after C-HR.
We are most interested in what Automotive News has to say on the subject in their annual future model predictions due out between late July and August of this year. Most likely, David Undercoffler will do the honors for the Toyota and Lexus brands. Will he third the notion put forth by Messrs. Holloway and Connor that the Lexus CT is destined to be a one-generation wonder? Or will he beg to differ?