Published on .

March 8, 2001

By Jean Halliday

Lexus is going topless.

The luxury division of Toyota Motor Sales USA launches its first convertible, the SC430, tonight on national cable and broadcast TV. The three-week TV flight is part of

Lexus convertible hits TV tonight.
the car's estimated $15 million media buy, which includes magazines and local newspapers.

A French twist
The Japanese importer, which filmed last fall's LS430 sedan spots in Italy, is giving the hard-top convertible a French accent. Narration of the two 30-second commercials from Publicis Groupe's Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif., is entirely in French. In one, the female owner of a Great Dane struggles to move the canine, who is frozen in place ogling the SC430. The other shows a swarm of bicycle racers toppling in unison after stopping to admire the Lexus. "Parlez-vous desir?" asks the voice-over.

"We think the ads will elicit an emotional response," said Mike Wells, vice president of marketing at Lexus.

Lexus will only have 12,000 of the cars to sell this year; 10,325 units have already been presold, Mr. Wells said. About 60% of those are from current Lexus owners. He expects only about 10,000 units will be imported next year.

So why advertise? "We want to create awareness and leverage the styling, passion and performance across of our entire lineup."

'Caviar and champagne'
The best-selling Lexus is the RX300 sport utility. Of the 30,825 vehicles the brand sold in the first two months of the year, 11,398 were RX300s, according to Automotive News. Lexus spent $129 million in measured media in the first 11 months of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Ads for the SC430 can maintain demand for the car, said Jim Hall, a vice president at consultancy AutoPacific. The category of luxury convertibles is growing, and "luxury cars and convertibles go together like caviar and champagne," he said, adding that the SC430 "isn't a sports car. It's a luxury convertible."

Still, the car offers a 300-horsepower, V-eight engine. The base price is $58,455.

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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