Acura in America Really Needs Acura in China to Succeed, but That'll Take Time

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
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acura in america really needs acura in china to succeed but that ll take time

The long-established U.S. auto industry is essentially impossible to turn on its head. An automaker can’t simply show up with a new brand or a new philosophy or new design tactics and instantly upset the apple cart.

Just as you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it’s difficult to teach an old automobile market to adopt new buying habits. Market share swings are incremental. Progress is slow. At Acura, for example, facelifts of the TLX and RLX sedans and improved availability of the MDX (after moving some production to Ohio) will likely not combine to increase the brand’s market share by even one-tenth of one percent.

Given the difficulties faced by Acura in America — sales have fallen by more than a quarter since 2005 — Honda’s premium brand is turning its gaze to a larger, fresher, less established market. A market where buying habits are not cemented, where market share is still up for grabs, where market-specific vehicles are the norm.

And if Acura can soon succeed in China, where the brand has high hopes for the near-term, then Acura stands a much better chance of succeeding in America.

Acura is such a U.S.-centric auto brand that China, with fewer than 10,000 sales in 2016, was the brand’s third-largest market. (Canadians acquired 20,227 Acuras in 2016.) If Acura China can punch in its own weight class, Honda Motor Company will have far more justification to invest in a brand which produced only 184,000 North American sales in 2016.

The first order of business for Acura in China was a China-specific model, the Honda HR-V-based CDX, which Automotive News reports is still not a North America-bound vehicle. Produced in China for China alone, the CDX accounted for more than three-quarters of Acura’s limited Chinese volume in 2016. The CDX is largely responsible for doubling the brand’s volume in that country over the span of just one year.

But due to high tariffs, Acura’s presence in other segments is limited by vehicles imported from the United States: RDX, MDX, and TLX, plus the niche market NSX. The MDX, for example, is roughly twice as costly in China as it is in the U.S., Automotive News reports. Due to these limitations, Acura plans more China-specific content: a long-wheelbase TLX and a hybrid CDX.

More importantly, from the 958 copies of the RDX sold in China in 2016, the brand hopes to be selling 20,000 RDXs per year by 2019 thanks to local RDX production that begins in 2018. Acura’s U.S. dealers will be pleased to see fewer RDXs leaving U.S. shores, as well. Heading into August, Acura had a modest 41-day supply of RDXs in America.

Dealers matter in China, too. Acura’s dealer count will nearly double from 50 in the first-half of 2017 to 90 by the end of the year.

If Acura gets its Chinese dealers right, nails down the sort of China-targeted vehicles customers demand, and sources enough local production, Acura will still need to craft a premium image Chinese luxury car buyers perceive to be genuine.

That hasn’t proven to be such a straightforward task on this side of the Pacific.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Gasser Gasser on Aug 24, 2017

    Let me see if I have this correct: US built MDX faces an almost 100% tariff going to China, but Buick Envisions waltz into our showrooms??? WTF??

  • Tennessee_Speed Tennessee_Speed on Aug 24, 2017

    In 1990 I bought a Legend. My wife liked it so much she bought one in '91. They were superior to the competition back in the late 80's and early 90's. Then the RL appeared. I bought one in 2000; not nearly as good as the Legend was in it's day; mainly the way it drove. Fast forward to 2017 - the TLX is nowhere at the level of the Legend was in it's day, relatively speaking. Honda just has to invest more funds to produce sedans that compete or exceed the competition.

    • Onyxtape Onyxtape on Aug 24, 2017

      The Legend was spendy back then - over $75k in 2017 dollars.

  • 285exp If the conversion to EVs was really so vital to solve an existential climate change crisis, it wouldn’t matter whether they were built by US union workers or where the batteries and battery materials came from.
  • El scotto Another EBPosky, "EVs are Stoopid, prove to me water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius" article.It was never explained if the rural schools own the buses or if the school bus routes are contracted out. If the bus routes are contracted out, will Carpenter or Bluebird offer an electric school bus? Flexmatt never stated the range of brand-unspecified school bus. Will the min-mart be open at the end of the 179-mile drive? No cell coverage? Why doesn't the bus driver have an emergency sat phone?Two more problems Mr. Musk could solve.
  • RICK Long time Cadillac admirer with 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance and 93 Brougham, always liked Eldorado until downsized after 76. Those were the days. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name.
  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.