DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp., one of the world leaders in environment-friendly auto technology, on Tuesday unveiled the world's first luxury vehicle using a hybrid powertrain, due for release in the United States this year.
The Lexus RX400h sport utility vehicle (SUV), based on Toyota's second-generation hybrid technology, will be more fuel-efficient than an average compact sedan and have peak output of almost 20 percent above the non-hybrid RX330 SUV. Hybrid vehicles use electricity to boost fuel efficiency and reduce noxious exhaust emissions.
"In real-world terms, you can drive the new 400h from Los Angeles to New York and back nine times -- that's 54,000 miles -- and produce less smog-forming emissions than painting a room with a gallon of house paint," Lexus group Vice President Denny Clements said at the unveiling at the Detroit auto show.
Toyota, Japan's top automaker and the world's third-biggest, is beginning to push the hybrid option aggressively as it drives toward its aim of selling 300,000 of the fuel-efficient vehicles a year by mid-decade.
On Sunday, it unveiled a hybrid version of the Highlander SUV to go on sale in a year, hoping to build on the success of the new Prius hybrid sedan, which was voted this year's North American Car of the Year by a panel of automotive critics.
"The 400h will be a significant vehicle for the Lexus brand," Clements said.
To raise awareness of Lexus' push into the hybrid segment, Clements said the brand would employ a new marketing strategy, adding a small "h" next to the Lexus icon, represented by the letter "L" inside an oval border.
"'Lexus to the power of h' will be the visual and verbal icon for this tremendous new technology and a new vehicle that will grow the Lexus brand," he said.
The Lexus nameplate, born in the United States in 1989, has been an important profit-driver for Toyota, and its success has convinced the automaker to introduce the line in the domestic Japanese market next year.
In 2003, Lexus sold about 260,000 vehicles in the United States, beating the previous year's record high by 11 percent to become the country's best-selling luxury brand for the fourth straight year.
On Tuesday, it also unveiled a new high-performance sedan, the 2006 Lexus' GS, which will be the first vehicle launched under a new styling direction for the Lexus.