By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp has a "good chance" of selling a record number of luxury Lexus vehicles this year, an executive said, as a weaker yen adds to the brand's allure globally and in its biggest market the United States.
The yen has lost about 20 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar since mid-November, providing a boon to Lexus, which manufactures more than 80 percent of its vehicles in Japan, and then exports nearly 90 percent of these cars.
Toyota sold a record 518,200 Lexus vehicles worldwide in 2007. Asked if the company can top that, Mark Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International, told Reuters on Friday: "There is a good chance of that this year."
"Lexus can be a vital contributor to TMC's overall profitability. We have a business plan to make it that," he said, referring to Toyota Motor Corp.
Lexus was the top selling luxury brand in the United States until 2011, when a huge earthquake and tsunami in Japan affected production. Globally, Lexus sales were hit by the 2008 financial crisis and the yen which until recently remained uncompetitively high for exporters.
Sales are now recovering, with Toyota selling 476,500 Lexus vehicles globally in 2012, almost 18 percent more than the previous year.
Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda took over the helm at Lexus in April, giving the brand more room to experiment with design and marketing. Lexus now sells a $10,000 roadbike and recently hosted a design competition.
Koichi Sugimoto, an autos analyst at BNP Paribas in Tokyo, said Lexus' operating margin could improve to around 20 percent this financial year from an estimated mid-single digit last year. Rival BMW posted a 10.8 percent margin in 2012.
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)