Acura charts a new course with 2017 NSX supercar – USA TODAY
THERMAL, Calif. — With a full-throated roar, the supercar that Honda hopes will breathe new life into its Acura luxury brand is finally ready.
The next generation of the sexy NSX supercar, recently shown to reporters at a raceway here, heads to its first customers this spring. While the NSX, with a starting price of $156,000, will certainly be out of reach of most drivers, company officials hope it can cast a performance aura over the whole Acura brand.
NSX “is exactly the representation of what we’re trying to do,” says Acura’s U.S. 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 the seller of higher-end luxury vehicles. Running at the top of the pack can draw more buyers to showrooms and allow Acura to command at least slightly higher prices for their already premium offerings.
“I think they are frustrated that they haven’t been able to move into that top tier,” says George Peterson, president of automotive marketing research firm AutoPacific. Currently, that luxury space is occupied by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus. When Consumer Reports magazine conducted a “car brand perception survey” in 2014, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and BMW were in the Top 10. Acura didn’t make the cut.
Middle-of-the-pack is also where Acura finds itself on sales. Acura’s sales fell 7.8% during the first two months of the year, says auto sales tracking firm Autodata, while those for swanky Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes-Benz increased. BMW did worse than Acura, however, with an 8.2% drop. After setting a torrid pace earlier in the economic recovery, luxury car sales have been softer more recently amid turmoil in the stock market and an uncertain election year.
NSX helps counter a key shortcoming for Acura compared with just about every other luxury brand. It lacks a performance division or lineup. Mercedes, for instance, has its AMG division, which adds horsepower to many of its models, even the SUVs. Even Tesla, the electric-car maker, has stressed performance and lightning-quick acceleration times with its Model S sedan.
NSX gives Acura a chance to show off its latest 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 when needed on turns.
Plus, it looks like it’s right off the starting line of a major European auto race. It will compete against other high-end sports cars like Porsche’s 911 Turbo and BMW’s i8. Aimed at moving emotions, Acura isn’t holding back in promoting NSX.
Next comes the New York Auto Show in a week where Acura will unveil the next generation of the MDX midsize SUV. The brand hints that the crossover, Acura’s biggest-selling model, will get decidedly more aggressive, racier looks. It will hit the streets this summer at a price that is expected to be close to the current range, from $43,000 to $57,000 depending on the version.
“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 powertrain technology that takes us another step in that direction,” says John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda.
To promote its new brand image, Acura isn’t holding back when it comes to playing up NSX. The supercar was the focus of 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 U.S. 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 3 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 supercar 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 supercars. It was an immediate hit.
Gradually, since then, Acura moved away from performance and put a greater emphasis on sedans and SUVs 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 acknowledges.
Now, he says, Acura is firmly on course.
The brand is “trying to create something in which performance is (the connection between) the man and the machine,” Ikeda says. Drivers “still want that emotional connection.”