2 key sedans to feature next-gen technologies

Acura hopes awd helps it recoup sales

2 key sedans to feature next-gen technologies

Mike Accavitti: "This is something we think we can wrap our brand around."
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been corrected to clarify that the TLX's center hump is reduced, not eliminated.

TOKYO -- Acura expects its improved, next-generation all-wheel-drive technologies in two upcoming sedans to help make up lost ground from a delayed product launch as the brand chases a full-year U.S. sales increase, Mike Accavitti, the luxury brand's general manager, said.

The brand is seeking to recover from a delayed launch of the Acura TLX.

Through July, Acura sales slipped 2 percent to 90,431 vehicles. That knocked it off pace to beat the 165,436 vehicles it sold in 2013, which marked a 6 percent gain over 2012, amid an overall market up 8 percent.

A re-engineered Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, or SH-AWD, will be offered as an option on the mid-sized TLX sedan that hits dealerships in August. And a Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system will debut in a hybrid version of the flagship RLX sedan later in the year.

The new SH-AWD for the TLX is more compact, lighter and more responsive than the prior generation of the technology, Accavitti said. Key improvements include:

• A smaller profile reduces the cars' center hump.

• Lower weight boosts fuel economy.

• Re-engineered actuators reduce drag and enhance dynamics.

Honda Motor Co.'s premium brand expects the improvements to pull in new customers and help offset double-digit U.S. sales declines in June and July caused by the delayed launch of the new TLX, Accavitti said.

"Our June sales and our July sales are below our plan," Accavitti said, declining to give a specific full-year sales target. "We hope to make that up through the rest of the year."

Acura spokesman Atsushi Ohara said the TLX was delayed to ensure the performance of its new electronics and drivetrain hardware, including new engines.

Acura sees SH-AWD, which provides better grip and sharper handling, as a signature technology setting its front-wheel-drive vehicles apart in a field dominated by German rear-wheel-drive rivals. The TLX is the first vehicle getting the new version; the MDX crossover uses the previous generation technology.

The Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, which teams two electric motors to deliver more control and horsepower, will be a cornerstone technology in the RLX and NSX sports car due next year.

"This is something we think we can wrap our brand around. And we're taking a look right now and analyzing how we can do that and communicate it," Accavitti said. "It's a space that we own. And it offers the customer a distinct benefit."

Engineers trimmed 8 percent off the height of the latest SH-AWD system, thereby eliminating the center hump in the floor of the trunk, and achieved a 2 percent reduction in drag, Acura says. They also delivered a 25 percent weight reduction, partly by eliminating the planetary gear, using a single-motor design and integrating the lubrication pump into the main assembly.

"It's really improved in every way," Accavitti said. "We were able to remove the hump out of the floor. That's a really important thing for our customers. It's a competitive advantage."

Acura pairs SH-AWD with its Precision All-Wheel Steer system, standard-issue on two-wheel-drive TLX and RLX models, to deliver what executives say is superior maneuverability.

The all-wheel steering system angles rear wheels independently of each other.

Both technologies provide a responsive feel distinct from both standard fwd and rwd vehicles, Accavitti said. "It's a very unique experience," he said. "We think that some consumers are going to prefer it to a rear-wheel-drive offering."

Acura may use SH-AWD on other nameplates down the road, but cost is an issue. Acura dropped SH-AWD as an option for its RDX crossover and now equips that vehicle with the more pedestrian awd system used in the Honda CR-V.

Accavitti said expanding SH-AWD's use "is certainly something that we would want to look at."

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter


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