JUNE 28, 2005
Toyota has announced that it is pulling out of open-wheeler racing in the United States after 12 years involvement with CART and more recently IRL. The Japanese company says it will leave IRL at the end of 2006 and is moving into NASCAR. This programme began last year with a number of teams in the Craftsman Truck Series. The company is expected to expand next year into the Busch Series and will eventually move into the Nextel Cup, possibly in 2007 if things go well. It will then be in direct competition with GM's Chevrolet, Ford and DaimlerChrysler's Dodge. The Nextel Cup series is already bracing itself for the attack with some existing teams investing heavily in technology and infrastructure, while others look to be involved in the Toyota programme. None of this will have any effect on the Toyota F1 project.
There is still talk of a plan to run a second F1 operation with the Lexus brand. This makes a great deal of sense given that the California-headquartered Lexus brand is expanding into the global markets, aiming specifically at the lucrative luxury car markets where BMW and Mercedes-Benz provide the main opposition. This is classic F1 territory.
A few months ago at the Geneva Auto Show, Lexus unveiled its models which will be used in Europe and there were suggestions that these will be followed by an exotic sports car.
"It is our intention globally to become the pre-eminent luxury car," said Lexus Vice President Dennis E Clements at the time. As part of the strategy Lexus has built an engineering and design centre in Nagoya, Japan and has stylists and designers working in satellite studios in Nice, France and in southern California. Lexus currently sells only 25,000 cars in Europe and is hoping to lift this number to 65,000 by 2010. These number are still dwarfed by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The two German companies say they are taking the Japanese seriously but above all remain intent on competing with one another.
In August Lexus will launch for the first time in Japan and a rollout in other Asian countries, notably China, will follow.
Toyota created Lexus in 1989 to market premium-level cars and sport-utility vehicles in North America. It has since expanded the brand to 49 other countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. In 2000, Lexus became the top-selling luxury brand in the US.
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