TORRANCE, CA – Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus division is studying high- performance hybrids to appeal to buyers who want something sporty while being environmentally friendly, according to the Web site, Lexus may build such gasoline-electric models to reach “enthusiast groups” outside its core market, said Lexus General Manager Jim Farley. More-powerful models may help Toyota meet a goal of extending its hybrid penetration in the U.S., with 78 percent of the market. Toyota helped boost 2007 U.S. sales of the vehicles by 44 percent through August, based on Bloomberg data and figures from Autodata Corp. Lexus is watching to see how consumers react to General Motors Corp.'s proposed Volt plug-in hybrid, intended to go 40 miles solely on electricity before the engine engages, and Tesla Motors Inc.'s battery-powered sports car that promises 245 miles of all-electric range, Farley said, as quoted by A rechargeable Lexus hybrid with extended electric range is possible, though an improved, more efficient version of Toyota's current hybrid system may be more likely, he said. Toyota has sold more than a million hybrids since its Prius was introduced in 1997. “In the U.S., hybrid is a key brand differentiator, and we don't intend to give that up,'” Farley said. The Japanese automaker's U.S. hybrid sales this year were 190,057 for the first eight months as rising gasoline prices and wider model selection continued to add to the vehicles' appeal. Lexus sells about 20,000 hybrids annually in the U.S., including the RX 400h SUV, GS 450h sports car and LS 600h L sedan. The latter, Lexus's most expensive model at about $120,000 with options, shows the potential for new types of hybrids, Farley said.