THERMAL, California: With a full-throated roar, the super car that Honda hopes will breathe new life into its Acura luxury brand is finally ready.
The next generation of the sexy NSX supercar was recently shown to reporters at a raceway here and heads to its first customers into the spring. While the NSX, with a starting price of $156,000, will certainly be out of financial reach of most drivers, company officials hope it can cast a speedy aura over the whole Acura brand.
NSX “is exactly the representation of what we’re trying to do,” says Acura’s United States brand chief, Jon Ikeda. “We need to create an overall experience that’s as exciting as this car,”
That could help Acura, which is often viewed as a premium brand, reach an even loftier image goal: To be perceived as higher-end luxury vehicles.
“I think they are frustrated that they haven’t been able to move into that top tier,” said George Peterson, president of automotive marketing research firm AutoPacific. Currently, that luxury space is occupied by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.
A boost in prestige could also bolster revenue. Acura started off 2016 with sales that pretty much matched where it stood last year – in the middle of the pack among major luxury car brands. Acura’s sales fell 7.8 percent during the first two months of the year, Autodata said, while those for swanky Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes-Benz increased. BMW, was worse with an 8.2-percent drop.
Luxury and performance
Now the focus is on showing that Acura isn’t just about luxury, but performance. That’s where NSX plays a role. The new NSX represents the latest in technology, both with a hybrid system that uses electric motors with a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine and a “torque vectoring” system that directs more torque, or power, to wheels where it is needed on turns.
Plus, it looks like it’s right off the starting line of major European auto race. It will compete against other high-end sports cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo and BMW i8. Aimed at moving emotions, Acura isn’t holding back in promoting NSX.
The super car’s image was pushed forward with a dramatic Super Bowl TV commercial in which the new NSX is seen arising from pits of molten metal and shaped by machines over the raw screeches of David Lee Roth in Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil.” The message: Acura is putting an emphasis on quality and engineering prowess – “precision crafted performance.”
The message is aimed, too, at recalling the brand’s roots.
When Acura, along with Toyota’s Lexus and Nissan’s Infiniti, came to the US in the mid-1980s, it quickly discovered a market for alternatives to Detroit’s dinosaurs, models like the Cadillac Coupe de Ville or Chrysler Imperial, and the sometimes-questionable workmanship that came with them. Japanese makers paid attention to details that Detroit’s Big Three overlooked, such as how closely body panels fit together. Acura’s car models, like Integra and Legend, quickly gained reputations for reliability.
As if that wasn’t enough, Acura shocked the auto world by showing its own super car in 1989, the original NSX. The goal was to create a finely tuned performance car that didn’t have the maintenance and reliability issues common to Italy’s finest super cars. It was an immediate hit.
Gradually, since then, Acura moved away from performance and put a greater emphasis on sedans and sport utility vehicles (SUV) over the years, the core products that customers actually buy but not the ones that burnish a performance orientation.
Though the brand was formed around the same idea, it has “wandered around a little bit” over years, Ikeda acknowledged.
One of the first tests of how large of a shadow that the NSX can cast will come later this month when Acura unveils the next generation of the MDX mid-sized SUV. The crossover is Acura’s biggest seller, but it won’t hurt for it to be seen as more performance oriented as well. Acura is already touting its connection to its new slogan.
“We are sharpening our focus on the ‘precision crafted performance’ DNA of the Acura brand and the 2017 MDX will integrate new styling elements and power train technology that takes us another step in that direction,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda.