Ted Klaus, the meticulous chief engineer of what will surely emerge as the automotive star of 2015, is the picture of calm, though developing the 2016 NSX remains chaotic.
"I am just so happy I am not working on weed whackers," says the American-born Klaus, 25 years with Honda and now leader of the team reinvigorating the Acura brand and all of Honda Motor itself with this new Acura NSX.
He took on this project back in 2011, months before Acura unwrapped the first NSX show car at the 2012 Detroit auto show. Chief executive Takanobu Ito told Klaus to create a car that unleashes the passion of the entire company.
"We're a mobility company. We want to move your body, but honestly, we want to move your soul. Your body just comes with it," says a measured Klaus about the second-generation NSX that is expected to be in showrooms later this year.
The NSX means everything to Honda Motor and here's why: In the spring of 2011, coming out of a global recession, Japan was devastated by an earthquake that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Honda's R&D facilities were largely wiped out.
We've since learned that Honda's engineers courageously pitched Ito on the idea of an exotic sports car just weeks after the quake, even as Honda struggled to begin rebuilding. Ito reportedly gave full approval late in 2011.
The result was the spectacular NSX shown at Detroit's motor show. The NSX embodies the latest possible in a 21st-century supercar, though it's not from an exotic car maker. And not from Ford, either.
Ford's GT super car, with its Kardashian rear end, also arrived in Detroit, yet it seems more Model T than GT compared with the slim-hipped NSX.
The rear-drive GT is powered by a twin-turbo V-6 mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Nothing new or novel there. The NSX is an all-wheel-drive advanced hybrid with two electric motors at the front and a third between the gas engine and the nine-speed gearbox. Acura's 550-horsepower drive technology is a generation ahead of Ford's 600-plus hp, period.
Of course, both designs are sleek, but the Acura's is an impossibly low creation wrapped around an aluminum-intensive space frame to which are attached an aluminum hood and doors. The feathery body panels are made of sheet moulding composite (SMC); the floor is carbon fibre.
Klaus will not confirm the 550-hp number, but promises performance to please the enthusiastic, sophisticated driver. The fact this NSX is a hybrid may be incidental to the car's broader mission – the perfect integration of man and racy machine – but it's nonetheless a step up from the GT. Klaus, however, won't be drawn into comparisons with Ford's super car.
"I am agnostic towards what type of [drive train] technology," he says. "A modern NSX – the X stands for experimental – has to maintain the fundamentals of a light and rigid chassis, but then you have to still experiment with technologies. Just throw them on there? No, no, no, no, no. But if they prove to be good, then use them."
Honda is using its hybrid skills to create a gem, likely priced at $150,000 (U.S.), to compete against the Porsche 918 Spyders and Ferrari LaFerraris of the world. This, from the builder ofCivics and from an Acura brand lacking the muscle to rival BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
Audacious. Indeed, the development has been done in Honda's centre in Ohio and the car will be assembled in a new plant near Marysville, Ohio, perhaps eight cars a day. Klaus, fluent in Japanese, shies away from sharing too many technical details, but insists the emphasis is not on raw power.
"The peak power is never really the issue in any machine; it's not the key to the driving experience," he says. "The broad power delivery and the immediacy of the power delivery really are what matters. When you need power [with this car], you have it. When you need to drive the car with your right foot or your left foot, or this foot [pointing to his heart] you have it."
Early prediction: Car of the year, perhaps the decade. Sorry, Ford.
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