Acura is working with a small group of dealers to develop an online shopping platform that will roll out when its first electric vehicle, the ZDX crossover, goes on sale this fall.
Honda Motor Co.'s luxury brand is adjusting to the digital car-shopping habits increasingly adopted by consumers in the wake of the pandemic. But Acura said it will not try to deploy a so-called agency model, where a customer orders a vehicle from an auto manufacturer then chooses a delivery dealer.
To the contrary, Acura's dealer network will serve as the nucleus of the equation, leveraging a tool being developed with the automotive retail platform Tekion to create a sales experience that fits a customer's needs.
"The dealers are really the center," Emile Korkor, Acura's assistant vice president of sales, told Automotive News. "They're the ones that create that bespoke experience and, of course, they're going to help us make it simple and frictionless."
The group, called the Acura Innovation Committee, is a mix of eight dealers — some from the Acura National Dealer Advisory Board and others who already have dipped their toe into digital sales. They meet monthly to discuss key elements that will go into the tool and to identify potential issues.
In the past, Acura's online shopping experience has been disparate and disorganized, bouncing customers among its corporate website, regional association sites and individual dealer sites.
Committee member Brian Benstock, owner of Paragon Acura, in Queens, N.Y., said it is paramount to create "a good experience for the customer, where they don't have to start all over again."
Acura and Honda were working on developing a consistent online experience for customers prior to COVID, but Benstock said the pandemic accelerated the process. "Many customers find that it suits their needs better to buy a car online, and now they will get the benefit of scale and customization," he said.
While the shopping experience will be enabled by a digital tool, Acura does not want to eliminate the "human touch," Korkor said.
"We don't want to create an environment where we're telling customers, 'No, don't visit the dealership,' because we know they want to touch and feel [the product] and create a relationship," he said.
Acura's digital platform will be tailored to the brand so that dealers can connect to it from their dealer management system. Tekion will develop the main underpinnings of the technology, but dealers will have some flexibility with an internal management process.
Korkor said insights from the Acura Innovation Committee coupled with the footprint of the brand's 270-dealer network will give Acura a competitive advantage as it transitions to an all-electric automaker. Honda Motor Co. expects to have a zero-emission lineup for both brands in North America by 2040.