By on August 23, 2017

2017 Acura CDX - Image: Acura ChinaThe 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 Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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18 Comments on “Acura in America Really Needs Acura in China to Succeed, but That’ll Take Time...”


  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    BLAH BLAH BLAH CHINA

    BLAH BLAH BLAH SOME MORE CHINA

    CHINA

    Every incompetent automaker or division thereof has one word for their soon-to-be-miracle-turnaround-plan, including Acura and Cadillac –

    China.

    In the meantime, China sits atop an white hot supernova of toxic debt that dwarfs that of any other developed or emerging economy (intentionally hidden from site), and the consequences will shake the world and China when the full extent of China’s real, massive toxic debt, bad banking practices, incredible graft/corruption (state-sponsored), structural economic rot come to the surface (the scale of these problems will surprise even the most dire predictions).

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Usually your abuse of caps and hyperbole are insufferable, but even a raving lunatic is right every once in a while.

      China probably has a decade or so before it all goes belly up… might as well get the getting while it’s good. A default could work in their favor… anything that makes China cheaper will draw more investment.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      No doubt all that’s true, but as of now, that’s where the potential sales are.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      There’s a huge problem for high cap-ex industries like automakers and Tier 1 suppliers to automakers:

      They are floating record amounts of corporate debt in the form of corporate bonds to build out facilities in China (the ones that want access to China’s domestic conzumer market, as it’s Chinese law to establish a footprint with a SOE or former SOE JV partner).

      There’s a massive amount of $$$ (many trillions) floated by such debt in the form of fabrication, R&D, logistics and assembly facilities “owned ” by multinationals (including those with home bases in the U.S. that are at risk of total loss when China inevitably goes through its Great Depression and/or trade wars escalate.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Wait…Acura following Buick now?

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Bruick is not only breing brought by Chinese brut bruilt in China (having all parts made in China, too) and exported to United Strates!

        Bruick Invrasion!

        #TrifectaTrune

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Honda is dumb not to sell the CDX here. This will sell well anywhere parking is tough and people have money (which kind of go hand in hand)

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Yeah, because nobody here wants their crap anymore.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    oh god, I thought the beak was bad, but that thing just looks like Jimmy Durante.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    The beak was/is awful. This new look is far from a clean sheet approach. It still says “beak” when I see it. Shame on Honda for trashing their own premium line year after year. The beak is a big part of the styling mess that is the new NSX. I haven’t shopped Acura in over 20 years, and that’s after owning three Acura back in the day when they had names , not forgettable initials that seem to make no sense.

    • 0 avatar
      dmoan

      The beak was fine in RDX and last gen MDX it made them stand out and blended well into design. I can’t comment on CDX since I haven’t seen up close in person but MDX now looks too vanilla. And it is easy mistake it for Sorento and QX60. One of reasons sales have declined a little bit since redesign while RDX inspite of being 6 yr old still leads it’s segment in sales.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The toned-down beak was better than this new monstrosity.

  • avatar
    RHD

    That front end, ugh!
    Say it ain’t so, Ichiro, say it ain’t so!

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    At first glance I thought it was a Mazda. I must be one of the very few who actually likes the beak.

    I had an old Legend years ago and still have a soft spot for Acura. I honestly don’t understand all the vitriol and hate against Acura. They still makes good quality, highly reliable premium vehicles from what I can tell.

  • avatar
    bobmaxed

    Man that is ugly. Makes any of the new Civics look good.

  • avatar
    gasser

    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??

  • avatar
    Tennessee_Speed

    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.


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