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New initiatives revitalize Acura

Honda confident the future is bright for its luxury brand

Published: February 29, 2012, 10:00 PM
Updated: June 7, 2015, 12:04 PM

2012 Acura TL

There are no funeral plans in Acura’s future. While rumours of the brand’s demise have been whispered in some circles lately, the commitment by parent Honda to its luxury arm is solid.

"We are totally committed to growing the brand," Honda Canada executive vice-president Jerry Chenkin said during a media luncheon at the company’s gleaming new headquarters in Markham, ON. "We’re confident the future for Acura is going to be very bright."

Chenkin’s optimism is based on several new initiatives being implemented at Acura, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in Canada on Valentine’s Day. One change, for example, is to refocus efforts on boosting car sales, rather than being dependent on the SUV market.

Currently, 58% of all Acura sales in this country are SUV models, "but our reliance on SUVs to carry the brand forward needs to end," Chenkin stated. Acura is anticipating the introduction of new car products in the coming months that will shift the balance of the brand’s overall sales.

Not surprisingly, Chenkin also wants to see those overall sales volumes increase significantly. Acura, like Honda, endured a beating last year, having to cope with disruptions in production schedules due to a trio of natural disasters – the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, then devastating flooding in Thailand.

While initially expecting to sell 17,500 to 18,000 vehicles in Canada last year, the impact of those disasters forced expectations downward to 14,000 units. Fortunately, Chenkin said, recovery was achieved faster than expected and Acura ended the year showing positive signs with just over 15,000 units sold.

However, while its dealers were able to maintain profitability during the interruption in supply by concentrating on used-vehicle sales and service, Chenkin said Acura sales are not where the brand needs to be in the Canadian luxury marketplace.

"We need to get volumes back to the levels we were at in the mid-2000s (over 20,000 units annually.) We want to be a Tier One luxury brand, but not by simply chasing those traditional luxury brands," he said. "We intend to achieve that goal by following Acura’s core values."

Rather than build luxury vehicles with awesome horsepower, for example, Acura will focus on enhancing the driving experience, using its engineering expertise to deliver high performance efficiently, using superior power-to-weight ratios.

The new NSX concept supercar, unveiled at the Detroit auto show, is an example of applying those core values. Instead of stuffing it with a mega-horse engine, Acura plans to use lightweight components and materials, combined with an engine that’s more fuel efficient.

The result of such advanced engineering will be a power-to-weight ratio that ensures impressive performance while achieving unexpectedly good fuel efficiency.

The new NSX, expected to be in production within three years, will also incorporate Acura’s Man Machine Synergy – a core value that will be bred into every Acura product.

While competitive products in the luxury market put maximum emphasis on the machine and minimal focus on the driver, Chenkin said, Acura products will offer a balance that will make driving its vehicles a true pleasure.

Alexandre Roger, division head of Acura Canada, explained the brand’s new synergy concept by describing the relationship between a Formula one driver and the race-car as being a perfect 10:10. European luxury products, however, are typically "machine 10, driver 6," he said.

That degree of synergy between man and machine leads to a frustrating driving experience because typically the driver doesn’t have the skills to match the machine. Acura’s approach will be to develop vehicles that enhance the capabilities of the driver.

Ironically, while Acura wants to shift its sales focus from SUVs to cars, product timing dictates that the first new product out of the gate is the second-generation RDX compact sport crossover.

The 2013 RDX is an evolution of the first iteration, with a more powerful (33 more horsepower), more efficient 3.5-litre V-6 engine replacing the current four-cylinder.

The new RDX has a more formal, elegant look, sitting on a longer wheelbase and wider track to further refine its ride and handling. In fact, the move to change the ride quality is a direct result of feedback from customers who preferred one that was less harsh than the current model.

Acura anticipates selling about 4,000 RDXs annually.

Acura also has high expectations for the new ILX compact luxury sedan introduced at the Detroit show. Scheduled to go on sale this spring, the 2013 ILX is intended to be the gateway to Acura brand for young, budget-conscious buyers aspiring to move into the premium compact luxury market.

It is not simply a dressed-up Civic – in fact, other than sharing the same platform with Honda’s top-selling sedan, few other parts are common between the two cars. Acura describes the styling as beautifully refined, with great proportions in a compact sport sedan. It’s key attributes are:

  • Impressive performance from a choice of three powertrains: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with six-speed automatic; a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with six-speed manual; and later this year a 1.5-litre gas/electric hybrid.

  • Higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

Affordability, with an expected starting price below $35,000.

Acura is targeting annual sales of 4,000 units for the ILX.

The brand will also introduce a new flagship sedan at the New York auto show on April 5. Conceding that the current flagbearer, the Acura RL, is too small compared to its competition in the segment, this new entry will have "the look and feel of a true flagship," said Emile Korkor, senior product planner for Acura Canada.

Interior room will be increased, especially for rear-seat passengers, while overall the vehicle will deliver full-size roominess in a mid-size package. Styling is said to feature striking lines and dynamic proportions, while its driving characteristics will be uncompromised.

A new technology – Sport Hybrid SH AWD (super handling all-wheel-drive) will be available, with a direct-injection V-6 engine with VTEC combining with a pair of high-efficiency electric motors and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. This system allows "at-will" torque control to distribute power to all four wheels for optimal cornering.

The hybrid powertrain promises the performance level of a V-8 with the efficiency of a four-cylinder.