The future of the humble hatchback is looking grim – at least insofar as Lexus is concerned. While small hatches continue to sell strongly in Europe and Asia in the mainstream market, the Japanese luxury automaker says its own hybrid-only CT 200h has become more ‘niche’ in an era where its customers are gravitating toward SUV products in ever-greater volumes.
Speaking with media at the global launch of its all-new UX compact SUV in Sweden, Lexus’ vice president – and the chief engineer of the UX – Chika Kako said the shift in buyer preferences toward high-riding crossovers has fundamentally changed the role of the CT.
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“With the CT, being a hatch, it’s a gateway vehicle, but perhaps it’s a little more niche versus a crossover,” Kako said.
“That’s a segment that’s expanding and caters to a wide range of customers: those that are looking for something new, those that we call ‘experiential masters’. This UX vehicle allows us to be in front of those potential customers in a much larger range.”
Asked whether another CT is in the pipeline, Kako simply gave a fairly noncommittal “you will see”.
However Lexus has been suspiciously quiet on the subject of a successor for the CT, which is now in its seventh year of production – pensioner age in car terms. Quizzed on how long the CT had left to run, Kako said it was no longer part of the product plan in certain countries.
“[It] depends on the region,” she said. “In some regions the CT has already disappeared.”
For Australia, local Lexus boss Scott Thompson said the CT would remain in the lineup as the entry point to Lexus ownership. While prices for the incoming UX, which is scheduled to arrive around the beginning of December this year, have yet to be locked down, it’s believed there will still be plenty of air between the base model CT 200h Luxury’s $40,900 retail sticker and the UX 200 Luxury’s starting price.
But while the CT will remain the bargain buy, the UX is being pitched as the better drive. Kako is a keen enthusiast and put a high emphasis on driving dynamics during that car’s development. She was also chief engineer of the CT 200h’s late-life update that rolled out last year, and her impression of that car’s on-road performance was not quite so complimentary.
“In the case of the CT, I inherited that car when the model change occurred, so I had to work with the set dimensions. With the UX I was able to start from a clean sheet, so I wanted to make sure that I created a car that is exciting to drive and is something that is satisfactory as a whole.”
Asked whether the UX offered more engagement than the CT, Kako was forthright. “I can say so, absolutely!”