Lexus is a brand that has built its name upon hybrid powertrains for the most part, but CarAdvice has learned that diesel isn’t necessarily off the table.
For luxury brands, big-growth markets involving SUVs sees diesel make up the majority of sales. For instance: 92 per cent of BMW X5 models sold this year have been of the diesel variety; Mercedes-Benz predicts that about 75 per cent of GLE sales will be diesel, based on this year's ML sales figures; and Audi recently launched its Q7 range with one diesel engine only (and two more diesels - a lower-spec six-cylinder and a plug-in hybrid version - may join later).
Lexus, however, has never had a diesel engine in its line-up.
The RX model, for example, has been offered solely with petrol or petrol hybrid powertrains, as is the case of the fourth-generation model.
However, Lexus RX chief engineer Takayuki Katsuda told CarAdvice at the launch of the new-generation SUV that there are internal questions being asked about diesel as a potential method of propulsion.
“Of course, every time engineers are considering what are the options, year by year,” he said of the internal discussions around diesel joining the Lexus ranks.
“We know such kind of competitors have the diesels, and also concerning about how the future of the diesel and gasoline – well, not only these kinds of combustion engine but fuel cell, and what the next technology will be,” he said.
“Every year and every time we are thinking of it,” Katsuda said of diesel.
“And what I would like to say is that car maker by car maker, the starting position was already different,” he said of the fact that European competitors have had diesel as part of their mixes for years.
“Because again, more than 10 years ago we already started this kind of advanced idea to start the good mix of combustion and electric motors. That’s why we are now going on to this direction.”
Katsuda said “of course” Lexus could potentially add a turbo diesel engine to its model lines in the coming years, because “every technology could have a best efficiency point”.
“Every car manufacturer, I think, thinks every time they are best to go for the best balance for the global environment and also the trend for the customers, including the pricing view point,” he said.
Katsuda pointed out that Toyota is strong in the diesel landscape, particularly in its SUV offerings. Indeed, there are several models in the local range that rely heavily (or exclusively) upon that fuel type, such as the RAV4, Fortuner, Prado, LandCruiser 70 Series and LandCruiser 200 Series. Then there's the highly popular HiLux.
In those models, a range of diesel offerings is available. The RAV4 has a 2.2-litre four-cylinder, the Fortuner, HiLux and Prado have gained a new 2.8-litre four-cylinder, while the LandCruiser models are offered with a 4.5-litre V8.
“Talking about not only Lexus but also corporate Toyota, already we are one of the biggest diesel makers,” Katsuda said.
“I’m not sure because I’m on the Lexus side, but I’m sure some of the successor idea, or the future idea of diesel must be there,” he said of the Lexus lines that could adopt diesel.
“Already currently a good amount of production of the diesel is there, and also the good customer [base] is behind our production. Therefore we, corporate Toyota, must think about this kind of successor idea,” he said.
However, any take-up of diesel on a global scale may be years off yet.
Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley admitted that chasing more sales with a diesel drivetrain isn’t part of the brand’s local game plan.
“For us, it’s no doubt our direction is clear – it’s a hybrid strategy,” he said.
“We have not deferred from that strategy from day one. We won’t be in the future.
“It’s a long game, right? I don’t see diesel as a long-game future,” he said.