Toyota unveiled Tuesday its first Lexus sedan available only as a hybrid, hoping that the popularity of fuel-efficient vehicles will help the luxury range buck the economic downturn. Toyota Motor said the Lexus HS250h sedan offered improved fuel efficiency of 23 kilometres per litre.

The company said it had received more than 3,000 pre-launch orders for the new model and aims to sell 500 of the vehicles per month in Japan, with a price tag starting from 3.95 million yen (42,500 dollars). The Lexus luxury line-up already has several hybrid models, but the HS250h is the first that comes only with the fuel-sipping system, combining a 2.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor.

“This is a new challenge for Lexus,” Toyota president Akio Toyoda said at the launch. The new Lexus, which has a system showing the driver how efficiently it is being driven, will go on sale in North America in September.