2009 Lexus LF-Ch Compact Hybrid ConceptEnlarge Photo
The BMW 1-Series and Audi A3 better look out as Lexus is working on a stylish compact car that it plans to launch sometime next year as a direct competitor to the aforementioned premium hatchbacks. In less than a week the automaker will present a concept version of this new premium compact car: the 2009 Lexus LF-Ch Concept.
Making its world debut at the 2009 Frankfurt auto show, the LF-Ch full hybrid concept is Lexus's first approach to the competitive European premium compact segment, which is expected to become the biggest segment of the European premium car market as early as next year.
It reflects the growing demand for cars that are smaller and more fuel and CO2 efficient, a trend Lexus hopes to capitalize on.
Featuring the latest iteration of Lexus's L-finesse design philosophy, the front end of the vehicle shows that the LF-Ch will be close to production form but not quite there: shaved door handles, complex surfaces and extremely tight panel gaps are likely to be simplified and made more cost-friendly before production is seen.
Interior shots likewise reveal a concept-only interior, though nods are made toward creature comforts rather than pure design, with a pop-up satellite navigation/infotainment screen in the center of the dash and two rather large instrument dials in front of the driver.
Per the company's typical system of nomenclature, the 'LF' designation is present due to the car's concept status, while the 'Ch' denotes the car's C-segment sizing and hybrid powertrain. No details have been released in regards to the concept’s advanced powertrain except that it will allow the car to be driven in a fully electric EV mode, a power option that is not available to drivers of mild hybrids.
The production version of the LF-Ch is expected to reach showrooms by 2012, though whether it will be coming to the U.S. is still up in the air, given America's relative unwillingness to pay premium prices for compact hatchbacks. Pushing the car in below the IS would lead to prices below the $30,000 mark--a place Lexus has previously said it will never go.
Still, to compete with the likes of BMW and Audi with their respective 1-Series and A3 models, Lexus may be forced to bring in the compact hybrid. The ability to deliver solid fuel economy and all-electric driving under certain conditions would give the Lexus an advantage in any such competition, at least in the near term, as well.