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The all-new Acura NSX concept, which debuted at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda/Wieck)
The all-new Acura NSX concept, which debuted at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda/Wieck)

Brand Marketing

Acura goes on the attack Add to ...

Ah, Acura. The reimagining, the reinventing, the remaking of Honda’s upmarket brand begins now and in earnest 25 years after Acura arrived in Canada.

It all starts with the launch of two new models, the 2013 RDX crossover utility and the 2013 ILX compact premium sedan. The RDX, in fact, went on sale April 2 ($40,990 base), while the ILX arrives in late April at a price yet to be announced, but guaranteed to be below $30,000.

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Both should help Acura press the reset button in the luxury game and if you’re an Acura fan – or dealer – it’s about time. Acura, of course, has been in a downward spiral since 2007 and last year was utterly disastrous. Sales in Canada were down nearly 12 per cent to 15,272, thanks to not only a lack of new products to drive excitement in Acura’s showrooms, but also as a result of a devastating earthquake in Japan that crashed the production of Acura vehicles.

With its factories now humming and the product pipeline stocked, Acura is ready to chase buyers aggressively – buyers who long ago left Acura after years of disappointment with Acura’s products themselves and to some extent with customer satisfaction, too. They may have walked away from Honda’s luxury brand, but Acura has monstrously ambitious plans to get them back.

In Canada, Acura expects a barrage of new products and customer service initiatives to juice sales to well above 20,000 units this year. And in the United States, Acura wants to sell 180,000 vehicles this year – up from 123,299 in 2011. On the quality front, Acura is aiming for No. 1 in J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, after placing third in 2011 (89 problems per 100 vehicles) behind Lexus (73) and Honda (86).

But honestly, quality has never been an issue for Acura. The designs of its vehicles? Now you’re onto something. In the last half-dozen years, Acura has gone wild and wacky with the look of its cars and SUVs and the result has been disastrous. The low point surely came with last full redesign of the TL mid-size car. Long-time Acura owners completely rejected the bizarre styling of what should be a bread-and-butter sedan.

It was a similar story with the outgoing RDX. Again, Acura misread the market, targeting youthful buyers with a radically designed and engineered crossover – only to be smacked in the face with disappointing sales. It turns out that the buyers of premium mid-size sedans and crossovers want comfort, simplified but comprehensive technology and, most of all, looks that are at once subdued and timeless.

So that’s where Acura is going with a barrage of new models: conservative in design and with ride comfort, though modern in terms of technological capabilities. That story starts with the launch of the 2013 RDX and 2013 ILX, and will carry on when Acura introduces a new flagship sedan to replace the current RL, likely with a new name. Acura has been planning to tease the market with some sort of early concept version of the redesigned RL flagship at this week’s New York auto show.

Then, in the spring of 2013, a redesigned TL will be joined by a reinvented MDX large crossover. The smart money is betting that the ZDX large crossover, a stunning sales disaster, will go away very soon. All these new models will be capped by the new NSX hybrid sports car likely due in late 2014 as a 2015 model.

An NSX concept has been shown already at various auto shows and it’s stunning – low-slung and dangerous-looking. Performance will come from the latest version of Acura’s hybrid technology combined with a new take on Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive or SH-AWD in Acura-speak. Needless to say, public feedback has been hugely positive.

With so much planned and so much change in the offing, it’s safe to say Acura has never come to market with such a full-scale press. It is the most complete new-model blitz in the brand’s 25-year history. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

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