Before I get into the details of Acura’s press conference at the NAIAS, as the Acura presser was unfolding I couldn’t help but compare the affect at Honda’s luxury brand to the mood at Lexus. Both Honda and Toyota have had to dea; with supply chain and production disruptions caused first by the Tsunami that struck northern Japan and then complicated by large scale flooding in Thailand. More to the point, both companies were introducing new sports cars at the Detroit show. Acura announced the revival of the NSX model name and Lexus showed a sleak concept sports car called the LF-LC. Both cars are intended to change the image of their companies, but the sense that I got at Acura was “we’ve made exciting cars before and we’re going to get our mojo back”, while the vibe at Lexus was “See? We really don’t make boring cars”.
Acura used the NAIAS to introduce three new models that executives says will be the first stages of a two year process that will result in a complete makeover for the Acura lineup, a revival of Acura if you will. The goal of that makeover is a 40% increase in sales to 180,000 units in 2012, driven by what Acura says is their threefold mission statement: Value, sustainability and “time is luxury”, Acura’s characterization of aids that ease the driving task.
First to be revealed is a new generation RDX. A more conventionally styled SUV than the previous RDX, it gets a 33 HP bump in power, and will be available in both FWD and AWD versions. They expect the FWD RDX to get 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Acura says that it’s banking on quality and roominess to distinguish the RDX from competitors. They claim best in class interior space, space that’s more easily accessible because of a rear hatch that is 6 inches wider than the previous RDX. The RDX will feature a suite of tech features including text to speech. The new RDX will go on sale in early spring of this year.
Joining the RDX will be a completely new luxury compact sedan based on the Civic called the ILX. Acura describes it as a sporty compact. The ILX will be the first model in a new sedan hierarchy, intended to rationalize Acura’s sedan lineup based on vehicle size. Pricing will be “well below $30K. Three drivetrains will be offered in the ILX, a 2 liter engine with an automatic transmission (number of gear ratios in that transmission was not mentioned), a 2.4 L engine driving the car through a conventional six speed transmission, and Acura’s first hybrid, which will feature a smaller 1.5L engine and a CVT.
Finally, Honda CEO Takanobu Ito came out to introduce a new NSX. Ito’s role at the press conference was no coincidence, as he had headed the team that designed the original NSX.
“Like the first NSX, we will again express high performance through engineering efficiency. In this new era, even as we focus on the fun-to-drive spirit of the NSX, I think a supercar must respond positively to environmental responsibilities.”
Ito said that the new NSX will be a “worthy successor” to Honda/Acura’s first supercar and that it will have “advanced” technology and be fun to drive. Many of the rumors about Acura’s new sports car had said that the company would give the new NSX a front engine layout but Ito said that the new NSX, like the original, would have a V6 engine mounted amidships. With a nod towards Acura’s stated core value of sustainability, the NSX will be a hybrid. It will also be driven by all four wheels, with a version of Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive.
The Honda CEO said the goal was to create a vehicle that allows the driver to be one with the car, to use technology in a way that it doesn’t get in the face of the driver, but rather eases the driver’s task. He also said that the car will have racing performance levels and that there’s the possibility that we may see the new NSX race. That’s a good sign for Honda. Racing was one way how Honda
got its mojo in the first place proved its engineering prowess in the early days. The NSX will be on sale within 3 years and will be sold globally.
He didn’t say it was due to the tsunami but Ito announced, to applause, that the new NSX would be built in the USA, at one of Honda’s Ohio plants, and it will also be developed at Honda’s US R&D center. Perhaps even more importantly, Ito explicitly said that the US will be “the global hub of the Acura brand”.
While a NSX would always be welcome news to car enthusiasts, the word about the US becoming the global hub of Acura seems to me to be an even more significant piece of news. Some of the Japanese automakers have been making noises about locating operations out of Japan due to the value of the yen. Honda’s decision to design and build the NSX in the United States, and make the US into Acura’s global hub may be the first concrete indication that noise wasn’t entirely a bluff. While Honda is the least Japan-centric of the big 3 Japanese car companies, I’m sure that Mr. Ito’s comments will get some attention in Tokyo.