PORT OF PORTLAND, ORE., TO HANDLE TOYOTA'S LEXUS

PORT OF PORTLAND, ORE., TO HANDLE TOYOTA'S LEXUS

Toyota Motor Co. will add a Pacific Northwest port to its list of sites handling its Lexus luxury cars.

The Port of Portland, Ore., on Saturday expects to begin unloading its first Lexus models for distribution by rail to 13 Midwest states, port executives said.Toyota previously imported its luxury cars only through Long Beach, Calif., and Newark, N.J.

George Borst, Toyota's vice president and general manager for the Lexus group, said the automaker expects to ship about 10,000 to 15,000 Lexus models through Portland.

Other types of Toyotas have been shipped through Portland for almost 30 years. Toyota currently distributes about 100,000 cars a year to 30 states

from Portland.

Francois Elmaleh, Portland's automotive division manager, said the port convinced Toyota to move cars for its central region through Portland because the port has a track record of few damage problems and because of favorable rail links to the Midwest.

Mike Thorne, the port's executive director, said the new cars represent an expansion of Toyota's activity at the port's 100-acre auto facility. Five Lexus models - the LS 400, the GS 300, the ES 300, the SC 300 and the SC 400 - will be shipped through Portland.

Portland regards itself as the fourth most-active auto import port in the United States, though the total volume of auto imports has been dropping in the last few years. The current high value of the yen and recessionary conditions have cut into import sales.

Despite that, however, Portland said it imported and exported almost 275,000 cars last year.

Some port representatives expect traffic through the auto terminals to begin rising again, as Japanese automakers begin to make more extensive use of their U.S.-based manufacturing plants in order to keep costs low.

Increased production at those plants for export is expected to boost the number of vehicles passing through Portland, Mr. Elmaleh said.

Expansion plans by one Japanese automaker earlier this year prompted the port to help Subaru USA to find a new terminal site across the Columbia River at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., he said.