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Japanese luxury brand Lexus says its longer experience with petrol-electric technology will give it the advantage in a looming hybrid war with its German rivals.

BMW, as revealed by CarAdvice last December, will become the first of the German luxury car makers to launch a hybrid in Australia when it releases the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 later this year.

The BMW hybrid, pictured below, will be a direct rival for the second-generation Lexus GS450h launched this week in Australia.

The GS450h is primarily Lexus’s competitor for powerful German diesels such as the Audi A6 3.0 TDI, BMW 535d and Mercedes-Benz E350 CDI. It’s not quite as fuel efficient but its combination of V6 petrol engine and electric motor give it comparable performance and superior environmental credentials.

Lexus says it welcomes the arrival of rival hybrids that will give the German luxury brands more comparable emission levels, but says the GS450h will still be ahead of a pack that also includes the Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid that was unveiled at the 2012 Detroit motor show and is under consideration for Australia.

“I think [the launch of new German hybrids] is great for the technology,” said Lexus Australia boss Tony Cramb. “Almost every car company is now showing off their latest hybrid and the more hybrids are on the market and available to luxury car consuers, the more normal [the technology] will seem.

“And so at that point our advantage [in hybrids] becomes real, because we’ve been at it a little bit longer. We launched the GS450h in 2006 so we’ve got the experience of a couple of generations. We’re working on things where they that haven’t exactly worked as we would have hoped in the first generation.

“But now we’re getting better and better at it, delivering with the [improved] CVT [auto] and delivering the fuel economy benefits plus the particulates and NOX [nitrogen oxide that contributes to smog] benefits of hybrids.”

The Lexus GS450h (below) has official fuel consumption of 6.3 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 147 grams per kilometre. That compares with figures of 6.4 to 7.0L/100km and 149-163g/km (estimated) for the BMW ActiveHybrid 5, and 8.7L/100km and 200g/km (estimated) for the Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid.

The GS450h also has a power output advantage – 254kW versus 250kW for the BMW and 225kW for the Mercedes – and shares a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.9 seconds with the 5-Series Hybrid. The Mercedes is slower with a claimed sprint time of 6.7 seconds.

Hybrid sales continue to have a relatively slow take-up rate in markets such as Australia and Europe, however.

The advanced and increasingly cleaner diesel engines offered by Audi, BMW and Mercedes also continue to grow in popularity in Australia. They account for at least half of all sales of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class locally, the natural competitors for the Lexus GS.

Lexus, however, denies it is blunting its sales potential by ignoring diesel variants.

“The benefits you get out of diesel we believe you get out of this hybrid vehicle [the Lexus GS450h],” says Cramb.

“With the GS450h, you get the fuel economy benefits almost as good, you get a much cleaner car in terms of emissions into the environment – and yet you’ve got the performance, the handling… This is a great package.

“I don’t think consumers are necessarily tied to diesel. What they’re tied to is the benefits those cars deliver, and this car delivers those same benefits.”

A number of BMW ActiveHybrid 5 models are already in Australia as BMW begins a process of educating its dealer and service network about the new petrol-electric technology ahead of a showroom launch set for September/October time.

BMW Australia argues that its renowned innovation and expertise in engine technology nullifies any perceived advantage in hybrid experience, adding a thinly veiled attack on Lexus for limiting its drivetrain offerings.

“We tend not to hang our hat on any particular technology,” said BMW Australia spokesman Piers Scott. “We have proven to excel in whatever drivetrain technology we choose to develop.

“Instead of being a one-trick pony, hybrid is only one string to our bow. It complements what we’ve developed in terms of turbocharging our petrol engines, and advances in diesel engines especially – such as the tri-turbo in the [upcoming] 50d [models].

“[But] the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is exciting technology with further advances to come.”

The Lexus GS450h goes on sale in June, joining the V6-only Lexus GS250 and GS350 models.




Click to read CarAdvice’s review on the new Lexus GS450h.




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