DETROIT - Overshadowed by Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Acura needs a stronger identity, says Dick Colliver, executive vice president of sales at American Honda Motor Co.
"We're not on all the shopping lists we'd like to be," Colliver said at the Detroit auto show. "So we have to bring the right product."
To elevate Acura's presence, Honda Motor Co. will open a design studio for Acura near Honda's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., in 2007. Acura and Honda designers now share a studio.
Although Acura has enjoyed healthy sales in recent years, data from Compete Inc. in Boston illustrate Acura's problem. Compete says the $33,000 Acura TL, the brand's best seller, was cross-shopped with the Honda Accord more than any other model the past year.
"Ideally, they'd like to see that be Infiniti or Lexus," says Lincoln Merrihew, who heads the automotive division at Compete. "There's too much overlap between Honda and Acura. That's more to the detriment of Acura."
'Not chasing Lexus'
Colliver said the new studio's Acura designers will create only Acura products. They also will work with the ad agency and Acura product planners so that everyone is in sync on where the brand needs to go.
In addition to fresh styling, Colliver said, the company wants to position Acura as a luxury brand with unique technology and performance.
"We're not chasing Lexus. It is not our intent to be everything to everybody," Colliver said. "We will stress performance and advanced technology. This is part of our long-term goal to separate Acura from Honda - to develop Acura as a global brand."
Acura is sold only in this country. It was launched in 1986, the first Asian luxury brand sold in the United States. It plans to start sales in Japan in 2008.
U.S. sales of Acuras in 2005 were 209,610, up 5.4 percent from 2004 and up 46.9 percent from 2000. For comparison, Lexus posted U.S. sales of 302,895 in 2005.
Leaning toward awd
Colliver said it will probably be about 2010 before the world sees the first Acura created at the new design center, but he gave some hints about where the brand is headed.
He said the company still has no plans to offer a V-8 engine but is leaning toward all-wheel drive.
Today, only the MDX SUV and the RL sedan are equipped with all-wheel drive. The new RDX small SUV, which goes on sale this summer, also will have all-wheel drive and is equipped with Acura's first turbocharged engine.
The NSX sports car, which will be redesigned before the end of the decade, will be powered by a 10-cylinder engine.
"The new NSX gives us an opportunity to expand with the 10-cylinder," Colliver said.
He also said the company wants to appeal to more male customers.