Halo cars are curious. Their role is clear: to make a statement about what a car maker is capable of from a design and engineering standpoint. But it’s often difficult to measure how successful they are in playing that role. You can’t judge by sales alone. You can’t judge by the number of die-cast models, baseball caps or posters moved, either.
Halo cars are supposed to drive more traffic to the brand’s dealers – but how much more? The technology and engineering in a halo car should, ideally, trickle down to other models – but how quickly, and across how many different models? Case in point: the Acura NSX. Two years after launch, how successful has this halo car been for the brand?
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Sales results indicate that something could be missing. For the first six months of 2018, 27 NSXes were sold in Canada; over this same period last year, 32 left showrooms. In the grand scheme, five fewer cars sold is not a lot. But a relatively new supercar – especially one with authentic supercar performance – should be flying off the proverbial shelves.
To bring their supercar deeper into the collective consciousness, Acura Canada now hosts driving events aimed at prospective customers. We attended a recent event at the Mosport Driver Development Track (DDT) to gain more perspective on what’s ahead for the NSX.
“Supercars are about performance, but a lot of people buy supercars for the brand,” says Hayato Mori, assistant vice-president, product planning and business development for Honda Canada. “The Acura brand and vehicles stand for precision-crafted performance, and [the NSX] has been very good for us. But we know that we’re not quite up to the level of the exotic brands, so what we have to prove to our customers is the performance.”
On paper, the NSX has the performance angle covered. The high-tech hybrid powertrain – consisting of a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6, an electric motor at each front wheel and another at the back – generates 573 system horsepower. The NSX has a launch control system, torque vectoring all-wheel drive, a nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and a regenerative braking system fitted with carbon ceramic components.
In quiet mode, the NSX whispers off into the ether. In race mode, it’s an under-the-radar missile. But is it too far under the radar to be an effective halo car?
“I was surprised by how little I knew about the car before today,” says Osama Arafat, one of the prospective customers invited to participate in the track day. “I think that’s one of the challenges; it’s not prominent out there. Everybody knows what the Nissan GT-R is and so on.”
A tech entrepreneur, aviation enthusiast and verified supercar aficionado, Arafat currently owns a Ferrari F12 and a first edition BMW M5, which he landed a day prior to attending the NSX event. His past rides include a Porsche GT3, Lamborghini Aventador, Tesla Model S and his all-time favourite, a Ferrari 458 Italia. If you were to draw up the perfect customer for a hybrid supercar on a whiteboard, he would be it.
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“After seeing the presentation, I was very impressed with the electric front motors and hybrid drivetrain; it does put [the NSX] into a class of its own,” Arafat says. While the technical details appeal to the engineer in him, the driving experience strikes a different chord, more resonant perhaps. A smile plasters itself across his face as he wipes the sweat from his forehead, the end result of a few laps turned in anger. “I loved it,” he says. “It’s a great car, I was really impressed.”
It’s mission accomplished, then, for the Acura NSX – at least for the time being. The track events have produced a few additional sales, but the final tally won’t be known for some time. And when introducing a halo car, it’s understood that you’ve decided to play the long game.
“We know that we’re turning some of the traditional Ferrari owners and Lamborghini owners,” reports Mori. “The only way to really appreciate [the NSX] is to drive it out there. We’re not even going to try to sell it to you. We just say, ‘Here’s the car, let me see what you think about it.’”