ORLANDO -- A sharp sales slide and Acura's decision to cancel rear-drive V-8 vehicles have dealers wondering whether the brand ever will reach Tier 1 luxury status.
But Acura officials tried to convince dealers at the make meeting that the new plan -- relying on hybrids -- will succeed.
While dealers wait for the hybrids to arrive -- which could take a year or longer, depending on the product -- Acura is providing dealers more incentives and increased marketing funds to drive traffic.
Jim Smail, president of Smail Auto Group in Greensburg, Pa., said he is eager for Acura to begin a sales event in April that will run through July. Lease and loan incentives will be tailored to each region.
In a rare move for Acura, the sales event will be promoted as such in advertising, rather than as product ads with a sales tag at the end, said Jeff Conrad, vice president of Acura division. The incentive plan has yet to be determined, he said.
Besides retail-driven spots, Acura will continue its brand advertising campaign, which was launched last year. Of 11 new commercials coming, four will involve the entire brand, while seven will focus on product attributes, Conrad said. All will feature a high-tech, r&d setting to highlight Acura innovations.
Acura also is helping regional dealer advertising associations with additional funds, Smail said. By October, Acura dealers had formed 19 associations. That has grown to 24.
"It helps all the dealers, because one single dealer can't afford a broadcast TV ad for a lease or APR deal," Smail said after the make meeting.
Dealers also applauded Acura's recent rollout of "below the line" dealer incentives. The incentives can trigger as much as $400 per car for dealers if they meet what Acura calls "easily achieved" guidelines for training, Internet marketing, customer service and certified pre-owned programs.
"It's a great program," Smail said. "About 90 percent of dealers won't have to do anything different than what they already do to collect."
Conrad confirmed that Acura is considering a small car below the TSX sedan. The vehicle not only would compete against the BMW 1 series, Audi A3 and Volvo C30 but also would help meet looming CAFE regulations.
The fleet of Acura's parent, American Honda Motor Co., must reach 37.5 mpg by the 2016 model year. As a result, Conrad said, hybrids, not V-8s, seems like a smarter first step toward meeting those standards.