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Did Anybody Believe The Lexus NX Would Be This Popular?

2018 Lexus NX front – Image: Lexus

Pretty? No.

Popular? Most definitely. In fact, the Lexus NX is twice as popular as Lexus anticipated.

The Lexus NX, a crossover you must never confuse with the Nissan NX, is marketed in the United States both in NX200t and NX300h variants. At the New York International Auto Show three years ago, Lexus revealed the brand hoped to sell around 26,000 NXs per year; roughly 2,200 per month. At that point, in the lead-up to the NX’s 2014 Q4 launch, there were two schools of thought. One, the NX was so ghastly to behold Lexus surely wouldn’t sell 2,200 per month. Or, because Lexus is such a luxury crossover powerhouse, even the NX — with a face even a mother couldn’t love — will be more popular than Lexus anticipated.

Dealers believed Lexus’ forecast was on the low side.

But could anyone have expected the Lexus NX would be more than twice as popular as originally forecasted; that the Lexus NX would be America’s fifth-best-selling luxury utility vehicle; that the NX would account for one-in-five Lexus sales in America?

The hybrid helps, but not to any great degree. According to HybridCars.com, only 5 percent of the NXs sold in the U.S. in calendar year 2016, and 5 percent so far this year, have been of the NX300h variety.

It’s the core NX200t — the one with the 235-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that starts at $36,280 and easily undercuts the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and Audi Q5 — that has made the Lexus NX more than twice as popular as Lexus originally expected.

Way up from the 2,200 units per month Lexus forecasted, the brand is now selling nearly 4,500 per month, having topped 5,000 units in three of the last five months and reaching an all-time monthly high of 7,375 units in December 2016.

The NX doesn’t appear to have peaked, either. In 15 of the last 17 months, Lexus has reported year-over-year NX sales growth, with U.S. volume rising 25 percent in 2016 and 6 percent in the first-quarter of 2017 despite a slow start.

2018 Lexus NX rear - Image: Lexus

Lexus recently unveiled the refreshed 2018 Lexus NX in Shanghai. It didn’t exactly become a Range Rover Velar or Mercedes-AMG GLC63 or Volvo XC90 or Mazda CX-9 overnight. Nor does Lexus predict a continued rapid expansion of sales, with senior manager of communications Nancy Hubbell telling TTAC the brand expects NX volume to stay roughly where it is now.

“The NX is now in the fastest-growing segment of the luxury industry and more competitors are joining all the time,” Hubbell says, pointing to the diversity of alternatives as one reason Lexus can’t hope to double its forecasted output again.

One factor that led Lexus to its conservative early estimate was the degree of success enjoyed by its slightly larger sibling, the Lexus RX. Historically America’s best-selling luxury brand utility vehicle — and by a wide margin — it was safe to assume the RX wouldn’t make a great deal of space on the couch for the NX’s backside to earn a whole cushion.

And yet the NX has carved out a space for itself, not by eating into the RX’s territory, but by growing the couch. 2016 was the best year for U.S. Lexus RX sales in the model’s two-decade history despite the presence of another, more affordable two-row crossover inside the RX’s own showroom.

With the RX still growing, the NX contributing at an unexpectedly high level, and the GX and LX adding incremental volume, Lexus utility vehicle volume in 2016 was 43-percent stronger than it was in 2014.

How do the RX and NX co-exist? Lexus says the buyers are different. The average RX buyer is 64, eight years older than the average NX buyer. And the buyer of the RX, which has a base price 22-percent higher than the NX’s, earns approximately $150,000 per year, 36-percent more than the NX buyer earns.

The NX’s surprising popularity wasn’t just a surprise to Lexus in the United States. “The Lexus NX dramatically outperformed sales forecasts in every one of its markets around the world, including North America, Europe, and China,” the company’s press release for the 2018 model says.

Consumers are clearly enticed by athletic-for-a-Lexus dynamics, a sufficiently roomy interior, excellent seats, and a premium aura that makes smaller but similarly priced German subcompact crossovers seem cheap, though you and I may fail to be seduced by its gaping maw.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @timcaingcbc.

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