Inheritances are a funny thing. Even though you may or may not want them, they get dropped in your lap regardless, even if the condition of the inheritance itself may be sub-par, especially if the previous owner neglected or treated it poorly. But sometimes all that little heirloom needs is a little polishing, because once it gets in the right person’s hands there is no limit to what it can become.
Jon Ikeda found himself in this situation a few weeks ago, when he inadvertently inherited the title of general manager for Acura when the previous figurehead was suddenly removed from power without incident or explanation. The former designer has been on-board with Honda/Acura for over 26 years now, and his move to power could spell the greatest advancement yet for the automaker, as it continues to chase Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz in the luxury race.
So far there is a lot to like about Ikeda: He’s already begun the implementation of an unorthodox strategy. This is a man who is very much like the new president of Honda, Takahiro Hachigo, who has also been around for a long time, and values performance over opulence. Both men recognize that their crossovers and SUVs are going to sell well regardless, claiming sizable portions of the market with the redesigned Pilot, all-new RDX, and unique HR-V. It’s the underselling segments that need the extra attention, and for Ikeda this means making sedans that are top tier performance contenders.
When Automotive News caught up with Ikeda the other week, he was very clear as to what was needed in order for the brand to spring into action. “We should make sedans that people get excited about, just like when they look at this NSX here,” Ikeda said, referencing the shining supercar specimen by his side. “That will be one of my first challenges with R&D, working with them to see what we could do to get that going.”
While Ikeda refused to elaborate, he did say the revival of Acura’s slogan from the 1980s was going to be pivotal in the success of the company. This long-lost mantra of “precision crafted performance” has not been seen in marketing campaigns for decades, and a return to these ideals could spell Acura’s rekindled affinity for luxury cars that are just as quick as they are comfy.
Acura needs to re-instill some of that excitement buyers felt when they drove an Integra Type-R for the first time, or realized that a full-blown Brembo big brake kit came on the TL Type-S. “Every step we take with any [product face-lift], anything that we come up with is going to be geared toward that,” Ikeda said.
Remember that article we ran on the bad-ass TLX race car, and why Acura needs to make a street legal version of it? That’s the kind of stuff Ikeda has in mind, because if they want to compete with anything M-series or an AMG badge, Acura’s going to have to up its performance game exponentially and work very closely with the boys over at Honda Performance Development (HPD).
Sure, there’s the new NSX, which will undoubtedly be very good, but let’s not overlook the automakers previous blunders, which have kept it from advancing into the upper echelon of the car kingdom.
First the Integra and then the RSX disappeared, as did Acura’s appeal with performance-oriented, entry level luxury buyers, who preferred lightweight Type-R handling over a comfy ILX ride. Then the TSX wagon was denied access to Acura’s amazing Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, or any form of all-wheel drive for that matter, so doting mothers opted for Audi Quattro wagons or well-equipped Subaru Legacy wagons instead. Next up was the RDX, which lost its clever suspension, turbocharged powerplant, and SH-AWD in favor of CR-V grade AWD and an unenthusiastic, overly refined aura. And finally there was the RLX, which offers a ton of amenities for the money, but continues to trail the likes of Mercedes’s S class and BMW’s 7 series even though you can steer all four wheels for far less than you might expect.
Ikeda claims that “performance, [and] quality are keys” to getting the company back on track, and hints that by using many of the features found on the new NSX in sedans, Acura will be able to propel itself forward as a force to be reckoned with in every segment. “There are going to be things that we hope that we can draw from [the NSX], whether it’s some of the styling cues,” he said, “and obviously I hope some of the technology trickles down into what we are working on now so people can understand what is our DNA.”
Tom Libby, an analyst at IHS Automotive, argues that “If you’re going to be a full-line luxury brand and compete with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, you have to have a portfolio that covers all of the segments.” Acura’s sedan line may just be the tip of the iceberg, as Libby elaborates that “historically [Honda] has been way out front in terms of powertrain technology, so if they take advantage of that they can create some kind of unique position.”
Meanwhile, not all is lost: Acura remains one of the few automakers immune to sub-par sedan sales in 2015. Sales of Acura’s sedans are up 36% from a year prior courtesy of the redesigned ILX and the arrival of the TLX. Acura sales remain up 13% across the board, and while Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW continue to pull further ahead, Acura’s day will come in the form of what some might call “precision crafted performance.”