Date: December 12, 2011 01:25
Submitted by: Jeff
Source: TOV News
Credibility Rating: Not Specified
Following the raftload of information coming from Honda out of the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, Acura hosted a select group of media for an unprecedented Strategic Briefing Session in Las Vegas on Friday December 2, 2011. We were privileged enough to have been invited to this session. Going into the briefing, we were expecting to see the new concept for the "Super Sports" model that Acura and Honda have been developing, and also the "sub-TSX" model. Acura not only showed those to us, but they opened up even further on their future plans. I can say that for the first time in a long while, we came away from an Acura briefing feeling very optimistic about the future.
During this Strategic Briefing Session, Acura shared much of their product strategy going forward. "Smart Luxury" continues to be the mantra, but suddenly, in the context of the new vehicles in the pipeline it makes a lot more sense. The model strategy is centered around a 3-sedan lineup running in parallel with a dual-CUV offering. In contrast to the 3 current Acura sedans, the new lineup of sedans will (finally) have more clearly defined differences in size and class.
New Flagship (Legend?)- late 2012
At the top of the sedan lineup is an all-new flagship. Acura says it will define "smart luxury" because it will offer best in class rear legroom, but will be sized smaller on the outside to many of it's "flagship" competitors. Vicki Poponi, Assistant Vice President, Product Planning put it this way: "Think about 7-series cabin space, with the agility of a 5-series vehicle."
What we found notable was the fact that Acura referred to it as the "successor to the RL". We have heard for a few years that Acura might possibly be reviving the "Legend" nameplate with this model, but if that's what they are truly planning, there was no mention of it at this meeting.
Several images of this new flagship were projected on the screen during the meeting, and it bears a fairly strong resemblance to the current RL, but the styling is wrapped around what appears to be a scaled up package. It's a conservative and clean design, not offensive but not particularly striking, either. It looks a little more muscular than the current model, and the wheelbase appears to stretch a little longer within the length of the vehicle, which improves the overhangs somewhat, but there are still moderate overhangs at each end. The C-pillar is punctuated by a Hoffmeister kink, which may turn into a new family trait (see ILX below). One new design element that stood out was exhaust finishers that were integrated within the lower rear bumper.
The new flagship will feature the electric SH-AWD system that Honda announced a couple weeks ago, promising V8 performance and "better than inline-4 cylinder" fuel efficiency. Acura will be introducing this car at the 2012 New York Auto Show and it will hit showrooms later in 2012.
RDX - mid 2012
Acura also gave us a teaser of the next-generation RDX, showing several images of redesigned crossover, and also sharing some of the changes that are in store. Again, quoting Vicki Poponi: "The all-new RDX will have a V6 engine that delivers more hp than our current 4-cylinder turbo, yet, it's also much more fuel efficient, which addresses some of the factors that led customers really to pass on the RDX. We expect RDX to offer best-in-class fuel economy in this segment. The all-wheel-drive system is also new, replacing the SH-AWD with a lighter weight system that provides performance and the safety benefits that the customers really want, without really adding all the extra weight of that very heavy system, and also the cost which hit both the pocketbook of the customer and also the fuel economy."
From the photos we were shown, the RDX bears a much stronger resemblance to the MDX, which (in our humble opinion) is a good thing. The roofline now more closely matches the MDX, especially in the C-pillar area, and like the MDX, the greenhouse is rimmed with a thin strip of chrome. The front of the new RDX has a slightly bulkier look than the current RDX, and the "chinless" look is a thing of the past. Apart from the (toned down) power plenum grill, there is considerably less brightwork in the front of the RDX than the MDX - and the RDX's lower trapezoidal openings in the bumper also serve as the foglight openings. From the photos we saw, the rear of the vehicle has a bit more of a "flat" look, mostly due to the hatchback being pretty much flush with the rear bumper. Look for the new RDX in showrooms later this spring or early summer.
Alongside the flagship, a new "super sports car" shares the role as the range topper for Acura. Acura didn't officially call it the NSX during their presentation, but everybody we spoke with following the presentation said it was indeed the NSX successor. I took that as good news. UPDATE: In their press release released this morning, Acura is calling it the "NSX Concept". Some text below is updated to reflect that.
Acura showed us the actual NSX Concept which will be revealed in Detroit next month. Unfortunately there was no photography allowed, but I can tell you that this will be one of the biggest reveals for Acura in recent history. Basically this is the car that was spied on the "Avengers" set late in the Summer, but it's clearly been further developed and it's also in hard-top form. Finished in a sliver paint, the concept is absolutely stunning, and carries on the NSX tradition of a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. The design is muscular, futuristic, and sharp, and vaguely similar to the Audi R8.
Compared to the "Avengers" car, the front end on this concept actually has working LED headlights - there are 5 "squircle" projectors embedded within each headlight housing. The rear bumper is also virtually identical to the "Avengers" car but with a real roof and backlight and more "production-looking" taillights, the overall visage is considerably different. Like the "flagship", the exhaust finishers are integrated into the bumper. A really cool (but not necessarily original) styling element is the "flying buttress" C-pillars. The C-pillars feature a "pass-through" which appears to be designed to channel air smoothly around the cockpit and over the rear of the vehicle. It's like an elongated version of the flying buttress seen on the Ferrari 599 - the NSX has a much faster angle on the backlight, which naturally lengthens the C-pillar. The gap between the C-pillar and the glass is fairly narrow, however. For the record, this concept wore Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires in 255/35ZR19 size up front, and 275/30ZR20s in the rear.
Acura wouldn't tell us anything about the engine or powertrain, but off the record they were quick to tell us that the announced Electric SH-AWD system with 3.5L DI V6 was clearly not potent enough for this car. It should be noted that THAT powertrain, with its 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and 3 electric motors, develops a peak output in the neighborhood of 400hp. Obviously with the MR layout, Honda has to engineer a very specific setup for this car, and we're assuming it will essentially be a reversed layout compared to the FF-oriented design which was revealed previously.
We are hopeful that it will receive a very special high output, high revving gasoline engine that is fitting of the NSX heritage, while leveraging the electric motors and onboard battery to deliver on the "smart luxury" promise of excellent fuel economy.
Acura ILX (long-rumored "Sub-TSX" model)
It feels like it's been an eternity since we first heard about it, but Acura finally revealed this long-rumored "Sub-TSX" model. First, Acura projected some photos of the ILX up on the screen and to be honest, it really didn't look that great in photos. It's a good thing they eventually showed us the car in the sheetmetal because it looks much better in person. The key design element that stood out to me was a pronounced crease starting in the doors and curving up over the rear wheelwell. I'm assuming it was intended to lend the car an image of strength, but I felt that it comes across as a little bit overdone. Also notable (and possibly a little overdone) is a Hoffmeister kink in the C-pillar. Otherwise, it's a good looking vehicle, with finishing details that give it a nice European (yeah, mostly Audi) look and feel. The ILX features a relatively long nose and a stubby rear deck and a high beltline. The front doors are fairly long - almost like a coupe, while the rear doors appear considerably shorter. The taillights are clearly Acura shapes, but for some reason when I was looking at the rear of the car I kept getting a little bit of an Audi A5 vibe. The general proportions probably reminded me most of the previous generation Mazda 3. The prototype had appropriately sized wheels which filled up the fenderwells very nicely. While our assumption is that this car is based upon the Civic platform, Acura never mentioned it, and from the styling and proportions there is essentially no hint that this car is related to the Civic. Acura announced the basic powertrain specs, confirming the rumors that it would be offered in hybrid form (1.5L IMA). Additionally, for those seeking an automatic transmission, the ILX will be offered in a 2.0L 4-cyl flavor (for now we're operating on the assumption that the engine will be an R20), and for the more sporting-minded, a 6-speed manual will be offered, paired with a 2.4L 4-cylinder. Beyond these basic specs, Acura would not comment on power levels or anything of that nature. We're expecting this car to hit showrooms in late spring or early summer of 2012.
Future of the TSX
There have been rumors that the TSX would be going away once the ILX is introduced. And depending upon how you look at it, those rumors could be considered true. Now that Acura has stated the "clearly defined" 3-sedan strategy, one of the 4 models has to go. While it wasn't directly confirmed that the TSX would be eliminated, we were told that something would obviously be slotted somewhere in-between the new ILX and "flagship" sedan. Will it be the TSX or the TL? It seems like it will come down to semantics, as whichever vehicle eventually fills that middle slot will be something different from both current TL and TSX models.
Acura has been getting beat up online (here, and elsewhere) for quite some time, and for now it seems like their response is measured and strong. If they follow through on their plans and deliver on their promises, the future of Acura appears much less cloudy than it did even a month ago.
Things have been quiet on the Acura front in recent years.
A lack of new product, fresh competition and parts shortages caused by the tragic tsunami and earthquake in Japan and flooding in Thailand six months later, has laid waste to a planned increase in sales for 2011.
But with 2012 around the corner and production back to normal things are looking up for Honda’s luxury division.
Not only is there new product in the pipeline, there is a new philosophy. At the recent Tokyo Auto Show, Honda chairman and CEO, Takanobu Ito, expressed his disappointment in Acura.
"To be very honest, I’m not satisfied with Acura," he said. "Something has to be done to help it stand out, to be more unique and return to the sporty image it had when there was the Integra and NSX."
The previous day, at Honda’s R&D facilities in Motegi, a couple of hours northeast of Tokyo, I had been given a glance into the future, a variety of prototypes which showcased innovation and driving dynamics that would indeed be a nice fit for vehicles on the ‘sporty’ side of the road.
And 2 days later, halfway across the globe in a secure Las Vegas hotel ballroom a half dozen Canadian auto writers watched as the wraps were pulled off 2 new Acuras — a new entry-level model coming in 2012 to replace the CSX and a stunning new NSX concept. With these as a backdrop, Jerry Chenkin, executive vice-president of Honda Canada, outlined plans for a resurgent Acura.
"The company began to re-evaluate Acura about 5 years ago," he said.
At that time a V10 supercar was in the preliminary planning stages.
"But then the realization struck that Honda — and Acura — were about efficiency. That’s where we could capitalize on our abilities."
The big V10 project was cancelled and development began on a new generation NSX, a sports car capable of similar performance with the emphasis on light weight and technology.
"If we were going to express sporty, we also needed to express efficiency. That is something Honda (Acura) should do," Chenkin said.
Social responsibility and environmental responsibility are Honda goals. The plan for Acura is to follow that path to achieve greater relevance in the luxury market. A new game plan was taking shape — vehicles that showcase environmental responsibility, meeting the wants and needs of luxury car buyers, while avoiding excess.
It all starts in a few months. 1st with the unveiling at the Detroit Auto Show in early January of 3 new Acuras — the production version of the ILX, the next NSX and a heavily redesigned RDX.
The ILX is larger than the CSX and will be built in the U.S. The new entry point to the Acura line is no longer a mild makeover of the Civic, but an entirely new vehicle. It will come in 3 trim levels, starting at just under $30,000 and include the brand’s 1st hybrid.
We’ll drive and report on it late March and can expect it in Acura stores this spring. The new RDX will come along at about the same time.
A new flagship sedan — the replacement for RL — will be next. The development team says that while the competition is achieving roominess by making cars bigger, Acura will offer a full-size, luxurious cabin in a mid-size car. The RL will also introduce new key technologies, including a ground-breaking SH-AWD system.
We had driven this setup a few days earlier at the famed Twin-Ring Motegi race track. The test vehicle had a 310-plus horsepower V6 engine with direct injection driving the front wheels and a pair of small, but powerful electric motors driving the rears.
Acceleration is awesome with all that torque available from launch and 4 tires to get it to the ground. But the truly tricky part comes from the electric motors in the corners.
One applies power to the outside rear wheel, helping push the vehicle in the intended direction while the other applies negative power to the inside wheel, tugging the vehicle into the corner.
Add to this a 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox with wheel-mounted shifters and you’ve got a high-performance sedan that accelerates like a big block V8, loves the turns and sips fuel like a 4-cylinder if you can behave.
The new NSX will probably arrive in 2013 with that same powertrain combo — reversed (the powerful V6 in the rear, driving the rear wheels and the electric motors up front driving those wheels).
In return for all this new product, Acura is asking dealers to introduce ‘concierge service.’ Chenkin described it as a premium experience from point of sale through the entire ownership experience.
American Honda's Acura division will launch a new entry-luxury sport sedan and a redesigned RDX crossover this spring as part of an ambitious effort to revive its luxury image.
The ILX sedan, which will replace the slightly larger TSX in the lineup, arrives in dealerships alongside the new RDX.
The combination of the 2 new products, plus the ability to manufacture at full capacity after recovering from last year's earthquake in Japan and flooding in Thailand, means Acura sales are projected to increase from about 123,000 units in 2011 to 180,000 this year, said American Honda CEO Tetsuo Iwamura.
Honda is revamping the Acura lineup over the next 18 months in a bid to jump-start the division's lagging sales.
After years of trying to push Acura into the front ranks with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus, Honda officials say they will settle for offering midlevel premium vehicles that favor fuel economy over performance.
"Over the next 24 months the Acura brand will unleash a series of new models that will remake our product lineup and shake up the luxury market," Acura General Manager Jeff Conrad said in a statement.
Acura's U.S. sales -- hampered by inventory shortages resulting from the March earthquake in Japan -- dropped 8% to 123,299 vehicles last year.
The ILX will share underpinnings with the Honda Civic. It is not the 1st time Honda has based an Acura on the Civic. The successful Integra and RSX of the '90s and early '00s were both Civic derivatives, and no 1 thought less of them.
Why was the ILX downsized? The outgoing TSX was based on the European Honda Accord platform, and its footprint crowded the TL sedan, which also was about the same size as the flagship RL. Having 3 sedans so close in size but with a $20,000 price spread was a problem for the brand. More differentiation was needed -- hence the ILX.
The deletion of the TSX, though, will not happen immediately upon the launch of the ILX, said Vicki Poponi, American Honda assistant vice president of product planning.
While admitting the TSX "is the car that gets squeezed," Poponi said that, "We can't dump it right away. We'll see how they work together."
Acura design chief Jon Ikeda said the introduction of the ILX means Acura is "in process of reshaping the hierarchy of the entire Acura sedan lineup."
Iwamura was upbeat about Acura's sales prospects for this year.
"If we do 180,000 units, that will be a success. We are much more ambitious for the future. Last year, we struggled a lot with production [due to the earthquake and tsunami], but this year we can go full speed," Iwamura said.
The ILX, unveiled in concept form at the auto show here, will offer a choice of 2 4-cylinder engines -- a 2.0-liter or 2.4-liter -- or a hybrid combined with a 1.5-liter 4-banger.
Among standard features on the ILX: keyless locks, push-button start, Pandora radio and front, side and side-curtain airbags.
The ILX will be built exclusively at Honda's new Greensburg, Ind., plant, boosting Honda's U.S. manufacturing base and further shielding it from the strong yen. The outgoing TSX was built in Sayama, Japan.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 179.3 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 56.1 in.
RDX: Longer wheelbase, wider track
The redesigned Acura RDX crossover gets a 273-hp V-6 engine instead of the underpowered four-banger in its predecessor.
The redesigned RDX crossover also will feature a longer wheelbase and wider track.
The RDX's previous big weakness -- a peaky turbo-4 engine -- has been replaced with a 273-hp 3.5-liter V-6 that has 33 more horsepower than the outgoing model.
Wheelbase: 105.7 in.
Length: 183.5 in.
Width: 73.7 in.
Height: 64.2 in.
Honda is ready to begin the makeover of its Acura premium brand this spring, and the timing could hardly be better.
In addition to the new ILX small sedan and redesigned RDX compact crossover coming in spring, a tease of the redesigned RL flagship due this fall will be shown at the New York auto show in April.
Then, the volume leading TL sedan and MDX mid-sized crossover are slated for 2013 redesigns. The much-hyped NSX supercar should arrive by the end of 2014.
6 years ago, Honda Motor Co. executives decided to move Acura upscale and shelve the brand's entry-level luxury offer -- the compact RSX hatchback, which was the successor to the Integra. The timing couldn't have been worse.
In less than 3 years, many of Acura's competitors announced plans to offer products that fit the RSX and Integra's niches. Then the global economy collapsed and many luxury-vehicle buyers pared back their purchases.
In May, Acura will return to the entry-luxury segment with the ILX. The sedan won't remind anyone of the sportiness of the RSX or Integra, but Acura hopes it will appeal to sensible Gen Y customers.
Conrad: "We're remaking the entire lineup over the next few years."
The collapse of Lehman Brothers "changed the philosophy for luxury purchases. People are making more rational purchase decisions, taking pride in the deal they strike," said Jeff Conrad, Acura Division general manager. "Generation Y aspires to luxury, but they need a little help getting there."
The new lineup will feature four sedans, the TSX, TL, RL and ILX. There is some overlap, but Conrad said Acura has no plans to eliminate any of the 4.
"We're remaking the entire lineup over the next few years," Conrad said. "Nothing goes away, and we're sticking with that. We've had a pretty strong reliance on sport-utilities and we want to bolster our sedans."
With 40,000 units of additional volume from the estimated $27,000 ILX, Acura expects its overall U.S. sales to jump 46% to 180,000 units this year -- up from 123,299 in 2011. If not for the Japanese earthquake and Thai flooding last year, Acura estimates its 2011 U.S. sales would have been about 150,000. So the volume jump is not as large as it would seem, Conrad said.
In the longer term, it's unclear whether Acura aims to fight head-to-head against Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
"We want to take 1 year at a time," Conrad said. "We're not going to go set volume targets for future years. Everyone wants to continue to grow, but for the foreseeable future this is a pretty good level to be at."
Acura doesn't want to increase its dealer count, Conrad said. But the brand needs to improve owner loyalty.
At 45%, Acura customer loyalty is slightly below the industry average of 49%, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Customer Retention Study.
According to the study, Acura doesn't really compete in the luxury segment. It mainly attracts customers from -- and loses them to -- Honda and Toyota.
"I know we're not satisfied with our loyalty numbers," Conrad said. He said retention efforts will include data mining to better understand when and how to contact existing customers.
Acura is counting on 40,000 sales from the ILX this year.
Acura also will be more aggressive with presale marketing before redesigned products reach market. Already, 3,500 potential 2013 RDX buyers are in Acura's dealer system, waiting for the on-sale date to arrive.
On the plus side, Conrad said Acura's average customer age is 2 to 4 years younger than those of other premium brands.
Although Acura's core customers continue to be baby boomers, the brand is seeking to connect with younger buyers. In researching Gen Y -- consumers aged 19 to 31 -- Acura has discovered that "value for money" is the primary concern, replacing the baby boomers' focus on quality, reliability and fun-to-drive vehicles.
So what do the Gen Y customers covet? Connected cars, with features such as Bluetooth, Pandora and SMS text messaging. Cool engineering solutions for better performance aren't nearly so high on the wish list.
"The real key is not that we offer it, but that we offer it and put it on a vehicle and make it intuitive to use," Conrad said.
Acura will continue its appeal to Gen Y through its product placement arrangement with comic-book-movie franchise Marvel Enterprises. Already seen in Thor, Acura products will be highlighted in this summer's mutant-superhero flick The Avengers.
That should play into the cool factor that appeals to young buyers. When asked what makes a vehicle cool, Gen Y respondents said exterior styling, affordability and environmental consciousness.
"It's no secret the last few years have been pretty tough on Acura," Conrad said. "'Smart luxury' has become our internal mantra."
Converts and turncoats
Acura conquests buyers from... While it loses its owners to ...
Honda 12% Honda 8%
Toyota 8% Toyota 7%
Lexus 4% Infiniti 4%
Nissan 4% Lexus 4%
BMW 3% BMW 4%
Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Customer Retention Study
TOKYO -- Acura's new global design chief wants to spice up Honda's premium brand, but 1 polarizing feature won't change.
The shieldlike double pentagon grille -- derisively billed "the beak" by critics -- is here to stay, says Toshinobu Minami.
Minami, 44, took the reins of exterior design for Honda and Acura last September, chosen by President Takanobu Ito to inject more visual interest into the company's utilitarian styling.
He says Acura's oft-maligned grille may have gone too far in the past. But the look is growing on people, he says, and the basic design language will stay, albeit toned down a bit.
"We concede that we went a little overboard at some points," Minami said in a recent interview. "We actually had pretty bad feedback on this initially from different directions. But we are not going to buckle under that pressure."
The V-shaped grille was most recently carried over to the new Acura ILX entry sedan that went on sale this spring. It also appeared in the redesigned TL that debuted last fall and the NSX concept sports car shown this year at the Detroit auto show.
But the new look has been toned down from earlier incarnations, which were introduced under Acura's "keen edge" design overhaul that started in 2008.
"There hasn't been that great of a change, but maybe people have gotten used to it," Minami said of the grille. "There may be small evolutions here or there in details."
Minami says he wants to make the Honda brand sportier and more active, closer to Acura's traditional territory. In turn, Acura will be "going further out, maybe pursuing premium."
Minami, who penned the NSX concept, worked in the early 2000s as lead exterior designer on the Acura TL and 2nd-generation Acura RL, neither of which had the keen-edge grille.
Acura is in the middle of a major product changeover, reflecting plans to challenge 2nd-tier luxury rivals Audi, Buick, Infiniti and Volvo rather than Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.
Acura has launched the ILX compact sedan and redesigned the RDX compact crossover. It will redesign the RL flagship this fall and make changes to the MDX crossover and TL mid-sized sedan in 2013.
Acura will lead the technology revolution for Honda Motor as the new Earth Dreams engine family is installed in all future vehicles. Also, Acura is moving toward increased use of 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions in addition to its basic 6-speed automatic. More models also will get hybrid versions.
ILX: Acura returned to the entry-luxury sedan segment this spring. But already criticism that the base 2.0-liter engine is underpowered may lead to a mid-cycle swap-out for the 2.4-liter, 181-hp Earth Dreams engine, or an automatic transmission for the 200-hp 2.4-liter from the Civic Si. Company sources say, in response to rumors on the Internet, that there are no plans for a coupe variant.
TSX: Within Acura there is talk that the TSX will go away after its normal model cycle ends next year. But don't be surprised if limited production continues, because the TSX's V-6 version doesn't cannibalize the ILX's 4-cylinder offerings.
TL: A redesign comes next spring, still sharing the Accord's underpinnings. Because the TL is too close in footprint to the RL, expect a shorter wheelbase and overall length, moving it closer to the soon-to-depart TSX. The big change will be addition of the Earth Dreams engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 with 310 hp and 265 pounds-feet of torque. This is 30 more hp and 11 more pounds-feet than the outgoing 3.5-liter engine in the TL. A hybrid version will also be available, sharing the same parts as the Honda Accord Hybrid and with a fuel economy rating of around 45 mpg.
RL: A redesign comes in fall, and the Earth Dreams V-6 from the base TL is the base engine. It will be teamed with a front-wheel-drive transmission and a 4-wheel-steering system. The base model is expected to weigh under 4,000 pounds thanks to extensive use of aluminum and high-strength steel.
The RL will have an optional 3.5-liter direct-injection V-6 engine with variable valve timing, combined with Honda Motor's Sport Hybrid All-Wheel Drive system. The improved engine puts out more than 370 hp, using a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The redesigned car is about the same length as the current RL, but with a wheelbase 2 inches longer. Both the track and vehicle width will increase by about 2 inches.
RDX: The crossover was redesigned this spring. The big change: A V-6 replaced the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
ZDX: Sales are sliding for the MDX variant, but since it costs relatively little to produce it alongside the MDX, it might remain in the lineup as a special-order vehicle until the next MDX arrives.
MDX: The mid-sized crossover is scheduled for a redesign next fall and will stay on the Pilot/Odyssey platform. Don't expect much change in size, but definitely look for a dialing back of the "beak" grille. It will get the same Earth Dreams 310-hp V-6 engine as the TL.
NSX: By 2014, Honda will hand-build the Acura sports car on a small-scale assembly line at the company's r&d facility in Ohio. The NSX will be as much about technology as performance. Instead of a monster engine, it will have a compact, direct-injection V-6 teamed with a lithium ion battery pack. The "Sport Hybrid All-Wheel Drive" system uses two integrated drive units at the rear wheels connected to a motor-generator that delivers power.
Secrets out! Motor Trend recently reported that Acura has been developing a smaller more agile NSX along with the regular NSX for quite some time now. No, it’s not an S2000 successor, but a Mid-Engine, AWD car that is set to blow the doors off it’s competition, and 1 that could actually save the NSX project all together.
When Acura 1st started developing this car, it had a major “Maybe” factor. At 1st it was just a few R&D ideas thrown together. But soon Acura came to the realization that this project could actually work.
We don’t have any concrete information on this car as of yet, but the “Baby NSX” is likely to be powered by a Turbo-Charged, Direct injection engine. Developing the big NSX wasn’t all a waste though, as Acura will be using many of the technologies from that project and directly fuse it to the it’s baby brother. Think of it as a smaller Hybrid of 2 NSX’s. This will also help recoup some of the costs involved in the years spent R&D’s the bigger car.
Expect to see the smaller NSX on dealer lots by 2017 with a price range between $50,000 & $60,000. Not bad!
Honda’s Acura brand is poised to take its place among the industry’s mainstream luxury brand with new products and ambitious sales goals, a top executive said today.
Acura will have a bigger push in the U.S. going forward, said John Mendel, executive vice president with American Honda, who was in Detroit to speak at the Automotive News World Congress.
The 2014 Acura NSX, to be built in Ohio, marks the return of the super car.
The 3rd-generation MDX will go on sale mid-year and the prototype was unveiled this week at the North American International Auto Show. In addition to a new 3.5-liter engine, the crossover introduces a two-wheel-drive option to appeal to southern states.
The new Acura RLX sedan goes on sale March 15 with a price range of $48,450 to $60,450.
The brand is very North American-centric with about 95% of Acuras sold here.
“We have not adopted a push strategy on Acura,” Mendel said. The pull strategy consists of exporting to China, Russia, the Middle East and other markets wanting Acuras.
“The U.S. is still the lead but there are people overseeing some of the distribution of Acura globally.”
Acura had a curious birth.
"Acura was conceived originally as an interceptor brand," Mendel said, established as a place for Honda customers wanting more content in their vehicles.
“It was never truly envisioned as a luxury brand,” he said. “It was a technology platform.”
It wasn’t until 6 or 7 years ago that the automaker saw Acura evolve as a true brand and it has taken the focus of the last several years to define it.
A senior Honda executive described Acura as always orbiting Honda, Mendel said.
But the brand is at a tipping point. “Now it is time to send Acura into its own orbit,” Mendel said.
Acura will contribute to the parent company’s ambitious global goals: 6 million in sales by March 31, 2017.
North America will account for 2 million of those sales with the U.S. delivering 1.8 million – up from about 1.5 million now. Mendel expects U.S. sales to grow to 16 million in the next couple years and Honda plans to take a bigger share of that market.
By the end of this fiscal year, March 31, 2013, global sales are expected to be 4 million.
Much of the growth – 1.5 million sales – will be small subcompact cars based on the new platform for the Honda Fit coming in the spring of 2014 and the new crossover that was unveiled at the Detroit auto show and will go on sale in late 2014. Because the new Fit-based SUV is small, it will not affect sales of the larger CR-V, Mendel said.
When the new plant in Celaya, Mexico, starts making the Fit and crossover next year, Honda will be using North American plants to make 95% of what it sells in the U.S. “No other manufacturer comes close to that arc,” Mendel said.
North America currently takes the lead on product development for 30% of the Honda and Acura lineup now and that will increase as well.
North America will take the lead on more key models such as Accord, next-generation Civic and CR-V, Mendel said. The NSX is also being developed here and most light trucks come from North America including the Odyssey minivan and the Pilot and MDX.
Dealer since: 1992
Dealership: Mac Churchill Acura, Fort Worth, Texas
Average monthly sales in 2012: 100 new, 218 used
Quote: "We haven't done a real good job of explaining the benefits of owning an Acura."
Paring down vehicle inventories and successfully launching flagship products are the big tests for Acura this year.
The new RLX sedan goes on sale in March, followed by the redesigned MDX crossover in the middle of the year. Acura dealers are working with the manufacturer on launch strategies, says Mac Churchill, who owns an Acura dealership in Fort Worth, Texas.
Staff Reporter Amy Wilson spoke with Churchill, chairman of the Acura Dealer Advisory Board, about what's coming up for Acura in 2013.
How was 2012 for Acura dealers?
Much improved. Our sales were up 26.7%. Everybody's net profits were up accordingly, generally across the board. Of course, this was the year without the tsunami. It was the best sales result since 2007. 2013 is going to be an outstanding year, with the new product they have coming and with the RDX being in full production all year long.
What are the major issues Acura dealers face in 2013?
1st is the launch of the 2014 RLX, our new luxury sedan that will be here in March. We're pulling out all the stops on a very successful launch. We've got all kind of new strategies to do that. We're going to try to build an order bank before the car even gets here.
Are you seeing early demand from people in the showroom or folks calling and asking to be put on lists?
Yes. We have lots of customers and lots of questions. We should be getting a couple of cars for them to view in February. There's lots of interest because Acura has not had a real good flagship car, and this will be our answer. [The factory] is going to get us cars ahead of time, and we're going to be able to test drive them and demo them. People will be able to place orders ahead of time, before the production starts.
Will it come across to consumers as a true luxury car?
Absolutely. It's finally there. The valet will park it in front of the restaurants. We've been asking for several years to have a real luxury flagship sedan, and this is the answer.
How will it do against the BMW 5 series and Mercedes-Benz E class?
Those owners are real loyal. But we'll win some over, and we'll win some back.
What else is a major issue for 2013?
We've got to have a successful launch on our flagship SUV, the 2014 MDX, which is still our best-selling model ever. It's really important we have a good launch without challenges.
Do Acura and the dealers still need to work out that launch?
We're working on the strategies. 1st, we're going to handle the RLX launch, but we've already begun talking about MDX.
Can MDX sales increase with the redesigned model?
Yes. In the South, all-wheel drive is not as big a deal as it is up North in the snow. So we've been pushing for 2-wheel drive, and they're going to come through with it. We're super excited. All the Southern states and California have been asking. We were real successful with the 2-wheel-drive RDX we asked for. This will be a big deal for us.
Another challenge we have is communications from the factory to the dealer and the dealers back to the factory, so they can have proper input and we can make changes like this 2-wheel-drive MDX. They seem to be listening better. They listened to us about designing the launch for the new RLX, so we think we're making progress there.
Has that been a struggle in the past?
Yeah. It's been more of a struggle, more top-down than coming from the dealers up and having an effect. But as of late they've been open-minded and have reacted quickly to some of our suggestions. We're actually getting more face time with Acura senior management. That has a lot to do with it.
What's being done to get sales moving for the ILX small sedan?
They were [too] aggressive on their sales target. That particular market segment is languishing. It's picked up recently since they put some more support on it. Early on, we were doing half the [targeted] sales. But [that's] 25% of that market segment, which ain't bad. It's No. 2 in the market segment.
Is it matter of readjusting expectations, or should other things be done?
They're making adjustments. We'll probably see them as early as May. They're going to up the content, improve the inside of the car. More value for the money. In the meantime, they'll have support for the car.
What are the content enhancements?
They haven't told us, but I would suspect they will add leather and power seats and things like that.
And not change the price?
How much longer will the TSX stay in the lineup?
They haven't put a timetable on it, but I think through this year anyway.
Does that vanish when the TL replacement arrives next year?
I bet so, yes.
How can Acura best juggle these product initiatives: Getting the ILX moving, keeping the RDX momentum and launching the new RLX and MDX? That's a big slate.
We're working to build a product cadence in lockstep with lots of preparation on the front end and designing our lease strategy around each of the products as they phase out or come in.
So we can transition people into new units and new models as they become available.
We're going to make sure we think out our strategy on the launches so they correspond to the cars and come in in the best manner possible. That's why we're coming with a couple of cars for each dealership to test drive for customers before the [production] cars even get here.
Do dealers see Acura as a premium or luxury brand?
We're trying to be a brand that offers value and not compete against the cigar-and-scotch crowd.
Are you conquesting buyers from other luxury brands or are they mostly moving up from mainstream brands?
Mostly mainstream brands, but we think the new RLX will conquest some of the luxury brands. MDX is currently conquesting some of those luxury brands. BMW and Lexus, for sure, and Infiniti.
What do Acura dealers think about the advertising account being put up for review?
Most of them thought it was overdue. Competition always makes you better. [Incumbent] RPA may ultimately end up with it.
But until you see what else is out there and how creative other people are, you can't be certain you're getting the best bang for your buck in advertising.
Do dealers want a new advertising vision for Acura? The Seinfeld commercial was perceived as cute, but does that get the job done?
We have great Super Bowl ads. But it's those ads that go on all year long that beat the drum to help you make sales that are so important.
1 or 2 splashes doesn't make an advertising campaign. And a real marketing campaign embodies all the different media, whether it's billboards or radio or television. It might be special events, but you've got to bring them all together and have a focus.
We haven't done a real good job of explaining the benefits of owning an Acura.
Does Acura have anything new in the works in terms of a facility image program?
They haven't come with any kind of program. I'm sure they've thought about it, as many manufacturers are. They do have a design model if you want to upgrade your store. They have not come with any extra money to help us. No hard pressure.
How does the certified-used program work? Are there ways to improve it?
We have made recommendations. The certification process isn't the problem. We just need more advertising and promotion in that area.
They're trying to put a plan together. They've already come with some interest rate support on some of the cars, so they've helped.
Is it final? Do we have a year's deal laid out? Not that I'm aware of yet. We're working with them to get a plan into effect that can be ongoing, that we don't have to reinvent each year.
We asked for co-op money. We asked for point-of-purchase products. We asked for a portfolio. We asked for incentive money for the certified cars.
Is anything still missing from the product lineup?
We have the NSX coming. It's not a volume car. We're making plans and talking about it already. It's a year and a half away anyway. I really don't know.
Once the NSX is out, will you have a full lineup?
We'll have a very good core. We probably need to find some other niches. I would say a convertible, a coupe.
They are not in the works, although I'm sure they're thinking about it and looking at the market segments they need to try to attack.
Acura’s future was so dire 4 years ago that Honda Motor Co. (HMC) began killing models and choking off product development. Now, Honda is putting $1 billion into its luxury brand, a perennial also-ran to Toyota Motor Corp. (TM)’s Lexus line.
Honda’s latest attempt to give Acura purpose is a parade of new products, including the flagship RLX sedan, an MDX sport wagon and the return of the NSX super sports car, priced above $100,000. Its goal is to tailor Acura to the tastes of the U.S. buyers it covets.
The product push this year comes after Acura’s U.S. sales have fallen 25% from a peak of 209,610 in 2005. Though Honda was the 1st Japanese automaker to sell a luxury car in the U.S., Acura never reached the peaks of Toyota’s Lexus line, the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. from 2000 to 2011. And Acura has never captured the cachet of German luxury cars, forcing Honda to sell its upscale models on the cheap.
Acura’s “biggest negative is we are known as a value company in the premium space,”Mike Accavitti, Honda’s U.S. marketing chief, said in a Detroit interview last month. “What we have to do from a marketing perspective is ramp up the emotional element.”
Honda’s effort to elevate Acura shows how important -- and competitive -- the luxury segment has become for carmakers worldwide. Luxury sales have increased as the U.S. economy has improved and upscale cars provide generous profits and prestige that serve as a halo over an automaker’s entire model line.
Luxury autos account for 12% of global sales, “but are almost 50% of industry profits,” Johan de Nysschen, president of Nissan Motor Co. (7201)’s Infiniti luxury line, said in a briefing last month in Detroit.
Honda has jumped 50% since Nov. 14 as the yen has weakened. Even so, investors are willing to pay a smaller premium for Honda’s revenue compared with BMW’s sales than they have for most of the past decade.
Four years ago, Honda’s then-president, Takeo Fukui, reviewed the expansion plans for the company’s lagging luxury line. At the time, Acura’s U.S. sales were plunging by almost half, to 105,723 in 2009, as the recession ravaged auto sales.
So Fukui took a red pen to Acura’s budget. He scrapped plans to create an Acura dealer network in Japan. He killed development of a new NSX model with a massive V-10 engine. He also canceled plans to emulate German luxury cars by outfitting Acuras with V-8 engines and rear-wheel-drive vehicle platforms.
Now, Honda is turning in a different direction from its German competitors. Acura won’t chase the money in emerging markets such as China. Instead, it will try to restore Acura’s credibility as a technology leader in the U.S. and finally emerge from the near-luxury bargain basement.
Acura “will remain a U.S.-centric brand,”John Mendel, Honda’s U.S. sales chief, said in an interview in Orlando, Florida, this month.
Honda, known for efficient product development, is overhauling Acura’s lineup for what some automakers could spend on 1 model, said Rebecca Lindland, auto consultant with Rebel 3 Media & Consultants in Cos Cob, Connecticut.
“If they can revamp the lineup for $1 billion, that’s money well-spent,” Lindland said.
In the U.S., auto sales have been growing by 10% a year since 2010 and disposable income tops $12 trillion, dwarfing what Asians and Europeans have to spend. The U.S. is also the market Honda knows best. The Tokyo-based company derives more than half its sales and profits from North America. U.S. drivers accounted for 89% of 2012 Acura sales, the company said.
Acura’s design studio is in Torrance, California, on the campus of Honda’s U.S. headquarters. Most Acura models are built in North America, and the company is preparing to build the NSX in Ohio.
“Honda really does its homework; they’re really in touch with U.S. consumers,”Kevin Tynan, Bloomberg Industries auto analyst, said Feb. 19. “But Acura is as anonymous as you can get. A lot of people don’t even know the relationship between Acura and Honda.”
Jeff Durgin, the president of a New Jersey construction equipment company, bought a $39,000 Acura TL in 2009 because he had owned 8 Honda models. He kept the TL only a year and replaced it with Hyundai Motor Co. (005380)’s upscale sedan, the $41,000 Genesis, with a 429-horsepower V-8 engine.
“The Acura was a good car, but the ride was pretty rough and the styling was terrible, with a big duck bill on the front end,” said Durgin, 48. “It seems like Acura has lost its way.”
The angular grille Acura began affixing to its models in 2008 turned off owners, including Michelle Krebs, an auto analyst for researcher Edmunds.com who used to drive a TL. Auto reviewer Dan Neil, then of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that the grille, which Acura has since softened, made the TL look like “a very large anime robot beaver.”
“Acura’s designs got very funky,” said Krebs, based in Royal Oak, Michigan. “They tried to make their designs different to stand out, but they ended up looking quirky.”
Acura commands the lowest prices among major luxury automakers in the U.S., according to Edmunds. The Acura TL sold for an average of $36,657 last year, almost $7,000 less than a BMW 3 Series, a slightly smaller model, and $3,000 less than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Lexus ES 350, according to Edmunds.
Accelerating Acura starts with the comeback of the racy NSX, which goes on sale in 2015 and Honda promoted in a Super Bowl ad starring comedian Jerry Seinfeld last year. When Acura introduced the $89,000 2-seater in 1989, driving enthusiasts embraced it for the speed it generated from a powerful V-6 engine mated to a lightweight, all-aluminum body. Once so hot, the NSX starred in director Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 hit “Pulp Fiction,” driven by Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe, played by Harvey Keitel.
Acura stopped building it in 2005.
The NSX is being reborn as an all-wheel-drive hybrid, with a V-6 augmented by electric motors to generate the speed of a V-8, Honda said. It will be so fast that Honda intends to race it in 2014 when the Grand-Am Road Racing and American Le Mans Series merge, said T.E. McHale, a spokesman for Honda’s motor sports unit. Honda has said the new NSX will race in Japan’s Super GT circuit.
Honda is hoping that by reviving Acura’s halo car, it can draw buyers to showrooms, even if they drive home in another model. Aiming for waiting lists, Acura will limit sales of the NSX to no more than 800 models a year, Mendel said.
Convincing NSX shoppers to settle for an Acura sedan or SUV might be a tough sell, Tynan said.
“I’m not sure a $100,000 halo car is going to get people to say, ’I get Acura now’,” Tynan said.
While the NSX is designed to lead Acura’s style renaissance, the sales recovery must come from the RLX, which replaces the slow-selling RL, the MDX sport-utility vehicle, and a new mid-sized sport sedan that will replace the TL model, Mendel said.
Executives in Japan want U.S. sales for the premium brand to grow to as much as 20% of Honda’s total deliveries, up from 11% last year, said Koji Endo, managing director at auto analyst Advanced Research Japan. Akiko Itoga, a Honda spokeswoman, declined to confirm that target.
That would suggest that Honda is aiming to boost Acura sales by as much as 82%, to a record 285,000 from last year’s total of 156,216. Mendel said Acura’s U.S. sales goal this year is “about 180,000 to 180,000-plus.”
That would leave Acura still trailing luxury leaders Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)’s BMW, which sold 281,460 models in the U.S. last year, Daimler AG (DAI)’s Mercedes-Benz, which had 274,134 U.S. sales in 2012. Globally, BMW sold 1.54 million models last year, Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s Audi luxury line sold 1.46 million vehicles and Mercedes had 1.32 million worldwide sales.
When Acura arrived in 1986, it was meant to showcase Honda’s engineering excellence taken to a higher level, symbolized by an angular A logo evoking an engineer’s calipers on the front of every model.
27 years later, Honda continues to struggle to reach the highest level of luxury with Acura. And it is losing buyers like Chicago marketing executive George Schaumann, who owned 4 Acura models before he left the brand in September to buy a $45,000 Audi Q5 SUV.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel good about driving an Audi,” said Schaumann, 53, who traded in a 2010 Acura MDX for the German luxury model. “Acura is kind of stuck in Honda’s shadow, with designs that don’t make me think of prestige.”
American Honda picked incumbent RPA to remain its advertising agency of record for the Honda brand after a 3-month review while giving Acura's creative business to Boston-based Mullen.
The decision announced Tuesday changes a 26-year relationship between RPA and Honda. RPA has carried the Honda brand since the agency was formed in 1986. It landed the account for Honda's luxury Acura brand in 1999.
MediaVest of New York has won the media-buying account for both brands from RPA, which used to be known as Rubin Postaer and Associates.
As a result, Honda's advertising and marketing relationship moves to more of a hub-and-spoke model with different suppliers for media buying, and for the Honda, Acura, Hispanic and African-American campaigns.
The 4 finalists for the $850 million account were RPA; Mullen; 72andSunny, of Los Angeles; and The Martin Agency of Richmond, Va. The media-buying challengers were PHD Worldwide of London; and Horizon Media of New York.
The Honda brand represents about 70% of American Honda's overall marketing outlays, according to 2011 figures from Advertising Age, a sister publication to Automotive News.
"We are confident that our new team of agencies will create dynamic marketing campaigns that connect and engage consumers with our products and our brands, while achieving an even higher level of efficiency and effectiveness," said Mike Accavitti, American Honda's chief marketing officer.
MediaVest's role as a separate media agency is expected to result in more sophisticated targeting of American Honda's media mix, with a significant improvement in media buying efficiency, the company said.
"Getting smarter about how we communicate was a critical goal of this process and even with the same level of investment we expect to realize more efficient and targeted media plans, which will increase the amount of money we spend on reaching our customers," Accavitti said in a statement.
Honda is in a strong position, product-wise, with recent changes to its 3 top volume nameplates: redesigns of the entire Accord lineup and CR-V crossover occurred last year, as did a 2013 freshening of the Civic compact.
But this also means the Honda brand is entering a fallow period with few major product launches; the agency will have to work to keep retail interest churning.
A strong December helped American Honda's full-year 2012 sales rise by 24% to 1.42 million vehicles -- with the caveat that most of summer 2011 sales were impacted by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. U.S. sales through February are up 4%.
Honda has grander volume aspirations. The Honda and Acura brands are aiming at their combined 2007 sales record of 1.55 million sales for this year. And Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito also has said he wants American Honda to reach 2 million sales in the near term. That is part of Honda's global growth strategy of moving from 4 million to 6 million sales by the 2017 fiscal year.
"This is a really good chance for our business," Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito said at a roundtable at the Detroit auto show in January. "We have a lot of momentum. We are at full production for the U.S. market."
Although the 2012 Civic was a flop among automotive journalists, it was a sales smash with dealers as Honda pushed lease deals. Even though Consumer Reports removed the Civic from its "recommended" list, the Civic outsold the Toyota Corolla for the 1st time in recent memory.
But pushing incentives is a rare occurrence for the Honda brand; the 2013 Civic has no deals, and consumers and salesmen will have to return to the old ways.
Honda's next growth spurt should happen in 2014, when a redesigned Fit and a new Fit-based crossover will arrive.
They will be produced at Honda's new Celaya, Mexico, plant. That plant will have a capacity of 200,000 units, which will be split between the U.S., Mexican and Canadian markets.
On the Acura side, the flagship RLX sedan is just reaching market, and RPA will still be in charge of that launch, Accavitti said in a January interview.
However, the MDX crossover -- which is Acura's volume leader -- arrives this summer, and that launch will be part of the transition between RPA and Mullen, Accavitti said.
Honda chose Pittsburgh-based Ketchum Advertising to launch Acura in 1986. Ketchum lost the Acura account to Suissa Miller in 1996, and then it went to RPA in 1999.
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