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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a watershed year for Acura in Canada. With the introduction of the 2010 ZDX and the upcoming addition of a TSX wagon, Honda's luxury division will have its broadest lineup ever.

And because the other models in the lineup have been given additional features and had their prices reduced for 2010, Acura is hoping to grab a larger share of the luxury segment.

Acura is the only luxury brand where the entire lineup has achieved a five-star safety rating. As well, J.D. Power's latest survey of service providers put Acura in the number one spot for all auto dealerships, and Auto Lease Guide says Acura models have the best resale value of all luxury brands.

The next steps in Acura's growth will be pushed by the division's design studio. The $15-million (U.S.) facility opened in May, 2007, on the massive Honda “campus” in Torrance, Calif., across an internal road from the Honda studio and down the road from the company's Advanced Driving Studio in Pasadena.

The whole idea of separating the Acura and Honda studios is to allow Acura to develop and maintain a separate identity from Honda.

The building itself is what you'd expect from a company so deeply ingrained in environmental responsibility. Certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building by the U.S. Green Building Council, it has an Energy Star reflective roof to reduce heat gain and lower air conditioning requirements. Reclaimed water is used for the landscaping and an intelligent light system maximizes use of natural light.

The Acura studio in California brings to 13 the number of Honda/Acura R&D facilities in North America; more than 1,200 designers, engineers and support personnel work on the development of automobiles, motorcycles and power equipment products for North America and global markets.

But it is what's inside the studio that will make a difference – a small and very young design team using modern technology, including a computer-generated virtual simulator that allows the designers to see the end product full-size and from every possible angle.

Acura was the first luxury maker to design, develop and build its vehicles in North America. Two-thirds of the vehicles it sells here are built here. The MDX and TL were both designed and developed in North America, as was the dramatic new ZDX.

The latter was the first product of the new studio and it exemplifies the spirit and purpose of this facility – to create unique designs that separate Acura from the pack.

The genre-defining ZDX was designed by then 25-year-old Michelle Christensen, who was hired by Acura four years ago right out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

The genre-defining ZDX was designed by then 25-year-old Michelle Christensen, who was hired by Acura four years ago right out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

She started out at Acura designing door handles and other pieces. Then the marketing department challenged the Acura designers to come up with something different, something special. Michelle's entry was the winner – nobody knew what to call it or how to classify it, but they liked it.

The decision to proceed with the design shifted her career into high gear. She worked on almost nothing else for three years, fighting for and justifying every element. The fact that the finished product ended up so close to her original sketch is proof Acura is prepared to take chances.

Just as it is with the new signature snout found across the Acura line. Love it or hate it, there is no ignoring it.

And that is the goal – to stake out some exclusive design territory from which a small group of talented young designers, in a studio removed from the influence of others, can define a new direction.

· Super Mod
115 Posts
TBH the new acuras are not my favorite. I still prefer Lexus and Jags. But I love my legend

1,199 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW battle for luxury brand sales leadership this year, Acura has been flying below the radar -- as usual.

Honda's upscale division has had a solid year. Sales are up 24% over 2009, outpacing the gains made by luxury's big 3. But the recession knocked Acura's ambition to become a 1st-tier luxury player way off course.

To hold down costs, 2 years ago Honda executives in Japan halted plans for a V-8 engine and rear-wheel drive. Now Acura is still trying to figure out "who we are and who we want to be," said Vicki Poponi, American Honda Motor Co.'s assistant vice president for product planning.

The industry crisis changed everything for Acura.

"The direction we were going became irrelevant within 60 days," said Steve Center, chief marketing officer for American Honda, referring to the economic crash after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008. "We missed the window. We've had to reconnoiter. We had to go with our strengths."

Acura does have strengths. Automotive Lease Guide has rated it the top luxury brand for residual value for the past 2 years. It shot from 14th to second in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study, trailing only Porsche.

And Acura spends just $2,600 per vehicle on incentives, the lowest of any luxury brand except Lexus, according to TrueCar and Autodata.

But while those strengths would appeal to a mass-market brand, they do not solve Acura's image problem, which is the lack of a defined prestige image.

The best Poponi can muster is that Acura is the brand "for people not comfortable wearing BMW or Mercedes."

"Nobody really needs a luxury car," she said in an interview at the introduction of the TSX Sport Wagon. "It's a more emotional purchase. But there are more rational buyers who want all the accoutrements of luxury but who want stealth wealth."

At the same time, Poponi said, marketing to "anti-snobs" probably isn't the best formula. Instead, Acura is aiming its "smart luxury" message squarely at Gen Y, the generation struggling with diminished earning power and a mountain of college loan debt.

"Attainability is still cool to them, and they like nice things,"
Poponi said. "But they're happy with a Coach bag; they don't need Louis Vuitton."

At Acura's recent national dealer meeting in Denver, executives unveiled an attitude closer to the brand's original slogan in the 1980s: "precision-crafted performance."

"Lexus may hit the mark on luxury on the prestige side," said dealer Doug Fox, president of Ann Arbor Automotive near Detroit. "But Acura is still moving toward a performance-oriented vehicle that is a great value, with normal maintenance and ownership costs."

That still doesn't gain Acura credence in the luxury-vehicle fight. Acura buyers' 2 most cross-shopped brands are Honda and Toyota, although BMW, Audi, Infiniti and Lexus are close behind, according to

Also, Acura's average transaction price of $37,665 is $5,000 less than its nearest luxury competitor, according to TrueCar. Edmunds says the most traded-in vehicles for an Acura -- besides another Acura -- are Honda, Toyota and Nissan.

All this categorizes Acura as a move-up brand from the mass market, but not something aspired to by other luxury customers.

"Acura's identity isn't clear to many luxury buyers," said Jesse Toprak, TrueCar vice president of industry trends and insights. "If I'm spending that kind of money, do I want an Acura, or a BMW or Benz? Acura simply doesn't have the same prestige. Once you hit the $45,000-plus market, many buying decisions are based on image."

Styling errors

Acura's biggest leap toward a more defined luxury image was its aggressive "keen edge" design, launched in mid-2008 with the 2009 TL. The look included a prominent fascia, disparagingly called "the beak" by detractors.

Acura executives defended the styling, seen most prominently on the TL sedan and ZDX crossover. But consumers have had their own ideas.

Unappealing exterior styling was by far the most-cited reason that shoppers walked away from Acura, according to the 2010 J.D. Power Avoidance Study. Nearly half of Acura avoiders cited that reason, far above the industry average and well above most premium brands. The No. 2 reason for not buying an Acura? Interior styling.

"Styling is hurting them," said Kerri Wise, Power's director of research. "It's their biggest hurdle."

That may be a reason that the midcycle change of the TL, arriving in March or April, has had more than a scalpel's worth of rhinoplasty.

Dave Conant
, a multiline dealer with a new Acura store in Mission Viejo, Calif., has seen the new, "cleaned-up" version and said, "If it had looked like this in the beginning, we wouldn't have missed a beat."

While consumers have been polarized by the styling of Acura's sedans, the smart packaging of the MDX and RDX crossovers has allowed the brand to ride the wave of consumers returning to light trucks. RDX sales have soared 52% this year, while MDX sales are up 46%.

Acura's overall gain of 24% means it continues to outsell Audi, Infiniti and Lincoln. Last year, Acura sold barely half of its 2005 peak of 209,610 vehicles. But dealers are confident the brand is on its way back toward the old mark.

Yet TrueCar's Toprak said Acura missed a golden opportunity to expand its leasing. While the luxury leaders routinely lease well over half their volume, Acura's proportion is closer to 1/3. Typically, its incentives are focused on dealer cash and stair-step bonuses instead of lease subvention.

With its strong residual values, Acura could have made hay with aggressive lease deals that wouldn't have cost them much, Toprak said.

New products soon

At the Denver dealer meeting, Honda executives promised additions to the product lineup, not just from hybrid powertrains but also in new segments. Dealers were told that 2012 would be a big year for new products, likely including the redesign of the ancient RL flagship.

Jim Smail, president of Smail Auto Group in Greensburg, Pa., said dealers were reassured by Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito, who was involved in engineering the original NSX supercar and MDX crossover.

"There are going to be more nameplates over the next couple years, more segments we are going to compete in," Smail said. "There were times when we were starved for product, but there is a commitment from Honda now. The company is going to put money behind Acura."

American Honda's Center said future sedans will be more distinct from one another, admitting that the current TL and RL are too close in size.

"Within 2 or 3 years, it will be quite clear which Acura is which," he said.

Acura probably will return to the compact sedan and hatchback segment currently occupied by the Audi A3, Volvo C30 and BMW 1 series. Once Acura dominated the class with the Integra and RSX but now doesn't compete. That will change, "if the car has the character of the brand," Center said.

One thing an RSX revival won't be is a reprise of the Canadian market Acura CSX, which is scarcely more than a rebadged Honda Civic.

"That is a poster child for how not to do it," Center said. "Acura needs to be more than Honda-plus."

Luxury bargain
Acura's average transaction price through November trails those of other luxury brands.
• BMW: $52,255
• Mercedes-Benz: $49,065
• Cadillac: $48,256
• Audi: $43,831
• Infiniti: $43,796
• Lincoln: $43,533
• Lexus: $42,794
• Acura: $37,665
Source: TrueCar​

1,199 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·

The launch of the refreshed Acura RL flagship gave us a chance to drill the company’s executives and PR reps with questions about the car’s successor as well as Acura’s latest plans to bring back something sports-car-like to the lineup. The information firewall was up in full force, so we were left to read between the lines. Following numerous conversations with Acura’s ebullient product chief, Vicki Poponi, and others, this is what we can surmise about the top of Honda’s top line.

The next Acura flagship likely will be called RL, not Legend or anything else terribly evocative, and it most certainly will not have a V-8 (we were told to stop asking). A former chemical engineer, Poponi is a numbers person, and she cites surveys that Acura believes disprove any notion that cylinder count is of real importance to luxury customers. “The market is moving to us,” the Acura folks said, citing increasing demand for higher fuel economy as well as the economic downturn prompting luxury customers to rein in their extravagant ways. We also kept hearing statements such as “Honda is a very conservative company,” and “the RL customer is a conservative customer.”

These hints suggest that the next RL will build upon the improvements made for 2011 in the areas of quietness, safety, and material quality, although the car will probably not feature terribly radical styling, nor will it grow all that much. So it won’t be a Lexus LS fighter but more like an Infiniti M fighter. Given that, we would also be very surprised if the next-gen car doesn’t add 25 to 50 horses so it can at least match the M37’s base output of 330 hp. When will we see the next-gen RL? With the current model’s age—and abysmal sales of about 3000 per year—it can’t come soon enough. Nods and nudges from Acura folks suggest that it will arrive very soon, perhaps within the next 12 to 18 months. We think the RL had better be at least a bit flashy if Acura hopes to get newfound attention from consumers in the brutally competitive $45K–$70K luxury-car segment. In this case, erring on the side of conservative may be an error indeed.

Details were far sketchier regarding additional members of the Acura lineup. We were told that Acura will soon introduce something unconventional sometime around the launch of the new flagship sedan. Will it be sporty? Probably. Will it be called NSX? Who knows. Will it be the front-engine supercar we saw lapping the Nürburgring a couple of years ago? No. Although that car was all but finished, according to Acura insiders, it was cancelled—not even shelved—due to Honda’s concerns that it might be crass to offer a $150K–$175K sports car in the face of worldwide economic hardship. However, much of the technology developed for that car will appear in the new car. Whatever it’s called.

30,092 Posts
I think we all know that the Legend has been relegated to legend only.
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