Everyone is eager to read Acura its Last Rites, but in the United States, it managed to outsell Audi last year. Despite having little to offer enthusiasts and traditional fans of the brand, the RDX and MDX are unqualified successes: the RDX outsells all of the small crossovers from Germany’s luxury bands (Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK etc.) with the larger MDX outsold only by the Lexus RX and Cadillac SRX respectively. As much as Acura touts the NSX as the future of the brand, what they could really stand to use is another crossover, one that slots below the RDX.
Acura’s sales have been a roller coaster over the past decade. 2006 saw the beginning of a steep decline in sales, with Acura losing nearly half of its volume by 2009, going from 201,000 units annually to just over 105,000 in three years. In the throes of the financial crisis, Acura canned expensive projects like a front-engined, V10 NSX, a planned V8 and rear-drive platforms. There was even talk of shuttering the brand altogether.
Evidently, that didn’t happen, and the brand managed to claw its way back. Last year, it sold 165,000 units, with the RDX and MDX accounting for 59 percent of the brand’s total volume. People are coming to Acura for the crossovers, not for the cars, though that picture should improve now that the RLX has replaced the RL and the moribund TL is on its way out.
That doesn’t change the situation, as much as the Integra GS-R worshiping faithful may not like it. Crossovers are a growing segment, and perhaps the only bright spot in a globally depressed auto market. Even in Europe, the spiritual home of the station wagon, crossovers are practically the only segment that is not shrinking. Acura itself is not a global brand, but the key markets in competes in – North America, China and Russia – are crossover crazy, especially the latter two, where poor roads dictate a higher ride height, and a high driving position and faux-SUV proportions are all desirable traits.
In America, CUVs are already eating into segments like mid-size and large sedans, while small crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape are among the most popular light trucks. At the same time, premium small cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA are gaining conquest sales from mainstream nameplates like the Honda Accord. It would be foolish to assume that the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLA won’t do the same with the CR-V, Escape and other larger, but comparably priced mainstream vehicles.
Acura is said to be working on a GLA-sized vehicle for the Chinese market, based on the Honda Vezel. From a business standpoint, they’d be foolish not to bring it here. It’s hard to imagine it would fare worse than the awkwardly proportioned ILX, which hasn’t been accepted by the market place, and will likely get its lunch eaten by the CLA.
When it comes to passenger cars, the European nameplates have Acura beaten lock, stock and barrel. But the crossover space is a different story, and it’s only going to grow further and further. A competitor to the GLA, the BMW X1 and an Audi Q3 could be a way for Acura to turn the ship around, adding volume for the brand while maximizing profit for the Fit/Vezel platform and preventing the European brands from owning that corner of the market.