LOS ANGELES -- Unique rear-wheel-drive platforms. Massive investment. A condensed five-year timetable. Global sales.
That's the bold strategy underpinning Hyundai's newborn Genesis luxury marque. And nearly 30-year-old Acura -- the senior-most of the stand-alone Asian luxury brands -- wants no part of it, says John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda.
Despite decades of muddled brand identity and mixed success with its vehicles, Acura has no plans to borrow a page from Hyundai's playbook, or any other luxury brand's, for that matter.
"They're going to do it the way they need to do it strategically, and it's certainly not going to change our strategy," Mendel told Automotive News at the Los Angeles Auto Show this month.
Instead, Acura needs to play to its own strengths in the crossover market while squarely addressing its weaknesses in sedans, Mendel said. This means resisting calls from dealers to keep up with rival Lexus by adding a bevy of new models or low-volume derivatives to its lineup, and trying to generate more volume and brand cachet from a streamlined lineup of well-made cars.
"I tell them, 'If you had three sedans that sold what Civic and Accord and CR-V sold every month, we wouldn't be having this conversation,'" Mendel said.
Overall, Acura is having a good year in the U.S., with 148,098 vehicles sold through October, putting it in fifth place in the luxury market behind Audi and ahead of Cadillac. But its sales mix is dominated by its two crossover models -- the MDX and RDX -- and its midsize TLX sedan, while its small and large sedans are laggards.
Acura General Manager Jon Ikeda has said sedans are a priority that his team is working on right now. The first peek at what exactly this means could come as early as January's Detroit auto show.
"We've struggled, candidly, with sedans," Mendel said. Though the recent success of the TLX has been encouraging, he said, the flagship RLX needs fixing.
Acura sold just 3,413 RLXs in 2014, and sales this year are down 35 percent through October. But volume isn't the only concern.
The full-size luxury sedan segment "doesn't sell a lot of cars," Mendel said "but it tends to define brands." That means the RLX, and Acura itself, are measured by the technology and prestige standards of the Mercedes S class and BMW 7 series.
Still, fixing the RLX doesn't mean emulating those brands with a rwd platform or a V-8 engine, Mendel said. Honda doesn't have either anywhere in its global portfolio, and there are no plans to change that.
Rather, he said, Acura plans to leverage its strength in front- and all-wheel-drive platforms as they become more common throughout the industry. The brand also will seek to capture a halo effect from the NSX hybrid supercar, especially as its tech-heavy features trickle down into more mainstream Acura models.
Such steps are important for not only luring new buyers to Acura, but keeping existing fans in the fold.
Unlike the new Genesis brand, "we do have things to lose," Mendel said. "We have a very loyal customer base with Acura. So moving them and evolving them along will be important."