PORTLAND, Ore. -- Honda's Acura Division has mostly been a North American entity during its 28 years of existence, but Honda plans to take its upscale brand onto the global stage.
Honda has announced plans to introduce Acura in Russia and the Ukraine in 2014 and move into Brazil and the Middle East in 2015. There is now a fledgling Acura sales operation in China that Honda aims to expand.
Still, the ambitions for Acura are more modest than Nissan's global aspirations for Infiniti. Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn expects Infiniti sales to grow from 170,000 to 500,000 by 2017.
In 2012, Honda sold about 176,000 Acura vehicles globally, with the United States accounting for 156,216 and Canada 17,154. The remaining few were sold in China and Mexico.
"Little by little, we have taken a bigger global footprint," Jeff Conrad, Acura's U.S. general manager, said at the introduction of the MDX cross-over here. "Our plans are not grandiose in scale, but they are rolling out."
Conrad declined to give a global volume estimate, but Honda Motor executives have said they want Acura's U.S. volumes to climb to 200,000 sales in the near term.
In markets such as Russia and China, larger vehicles such as the MDX, TL and RLX are expected to perform well. The MDX has been a gray-market favorite in Russia for several years.
One thing to be decided is how Acura products will be badged in markets where the brand is not present -- notably in the case of the NSX, which arrives in late 2014. The first-generation NSX was badged a Honda outside of the United States.
"That the NSX is being developed and built in America as an Acura product is a statement of how significant Acura is for American Honda and for Honda overall," said Honda spokesman Sage Marie. "Global distribution of the NSX will happen from here."
For now, Acura does not plan to expand into Western Europe, mostly because of Europe's continuing economic doldrums, Conrad said.
Moving Acura into Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East may be the best next step, said TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak. The newly wealthy in those emerging countries may aspire to newer luxury brands. "New unknown brands can become a status symbol in those markets," he said. "No one has an Acura in Istanbul."