Acura's Billion Dollar Revitalization
It’s hard to swallow the fact that the above photograph of me perched on the hood of my father’s Integra GS-R, one of the all-time great Acura products, is now nearly 20 years old. I can’t even remember the last time I saw an Integra on the road. Most of those cars have been crashed, stolen, rusted out or some combination of all three. There is nothing remotely close to the three-door VTEC hatchback in Acura’s lineup right now – and if you ask some people, that’s exactly why Acura is in its current predicament.
At least Acura brass are fairly candid (well, as much as one can expect from a PR pro) about the brand’s current situation. Spokesman Mike Accavitti told Bloomberg
[Acura’s] “biggest negative is we are known as a value company in the premium space…what we have to do from a marketing perspective is ramp up the emotional element.”
Bloomberg’s article states that Acura is eschewing the conventional approach to expansion, namely, growing sales in China, in favoring of focusing on the U.S. market and rebuilding their reputation in America. The RLX is getting positive press (despite being a front-drive, V6 powered sedan, which many enthusiasts regard as poison in the luxury segment), but the replacement for the TL will have to do the heavy lifting. It’s also worth asking how far the $1 billion dollar investment will go, given that $1 billion is typically required to bring a single new model to market. It’s an impressive figure to throw around, but in the context of the industry, it’s not an enormous sum.
Many of us would argue that Acura’s lineup from two decades ago did provide that necessary excitement that’s been missing for so long. Sure, Acura may not have been what we now call a “Tier 1 luxury brand”, but neither were they derisively viewed as little more than tarted up Hondas (as many people seem to think now). But in those two decades, so much has changed.
The best example of how different things are now is Audi. What was once an absolute non-entity still reeling from a malignant smear campaign, into the chicest luxury car one can buy right now. Rather than follow the usual suggestions for rear-drive platforms, V8 engines and a general emulation of BMW, Mercedes or Lexus, the Audi example might be the best to follow; a slow, measured and deliberate climb to the top, rather than hoping for an overnight Hail Mary pass that will suddenly reverse the brand’s standing.
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I'd never owned a car that elicited waves and/or honks from fellow owners until I bought my base model 2005 RSX last June. I bought the car because I wanted a small, reliable, economical hatchback that would add some fun to the commute, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money to get it. I also wanted to drive a Honda product after owning many Mazdas and Fords. Never did I expect to experience fellow RSX drivers, and some clapped-out Civic pilots, reach out to me like we were all driving Corvettes. It's opened my eyes to an enthusiasm for these cars that I thought had died with the Integra.