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Acura Rising
Jerry Flint, Forbes.com



After many years of disappointing performance, Acura, Honda's luxury division, has posted a 29% sales increase in the first three months of 2004. What's more, a new top-of-the-line luxury model, a redesigned RL (shown above), is coming this fall to challenge the perennial leaders--the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series.

Is Acura really on the winning track, or is this just a hot streak that will fade in a year? It's hard to tell. The current gains come from two new models: the TL, a $35,000, fully equipped sports sedan that is the best-selling Acura, and the TSX, a smaller, four-cylinder sports sedan.

Acura builds really good cars, with terrific reputations for quality and value. What has held Acura back is its insistence on making cars with front-wheel drive in a class where rear-drivers are preferred. Motor Trend magazine, for example, in a test of four sports sedans, rates the Acura TL third behind Nissan's (nasdaq: NSANY - news - people ) Infiniti G35 and General Motors' (nyse: GM - news - people ) Cadillac CTS, and ahead only of the Saab 9-3 Aero.

"A super value, but front drive compromises dynamic performance," says Motor Trend. The TL "will raise no one's blood lust," writes the Los Angeles Times' Dan Neil, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his columns. "The TL is botox for the brain box," notes Neil. I'm not sure what that means, but the botox comment doesn't sound like a compliment.

What has really kept Acura going is one strong model--its wonderful MDX crossover sport utility vehicle. Acura's passenger cars haven't shown much strength over the years and the MDX SUV, which began arriving in 2000, kept the division rolling. The MDX, by the way, is now being produced in North America.



Acura's sales mix appears to be changing: In the first three months of this year, its total sales are up 29% (45,571 units, versus 35,457 a year ago). That's a serious gain. Its TL sedan ran up 19,000 sales, compared with 13,000 for the previous-generation TL in the year-ago quarter. The new TSX did 6,000 sales, and the ever-strong MDX did 14,000. But, for the first time that I can remember, Nissan's Infiniti division crept ahead of Acura in the first quarter. In short, Acura's gains are impressive, but it's running on a very fast track.

The new RL coming this fall represents Acura's strongest attempt to gain market and mind share in the premium sedan segment. The current RL is a dud: It sold only 7,000 units last year and 9,000 the year before.

The old RL had three weaknesses as a luxury car. It was front-wheel drive, it lacked a V-8 and it didn't look luxurious. The upcoming RL tries to remedy these shortcomings. For starters, it comes standard with a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, which Acura boasts will deliver superior handling. Honda (nyse: HMC - news - people ) still stubbornly refuses to offer a V-8 in any of its sedans, but the V-6 in the new Acura is a powerful 300-horsepower unit. This RL looks like a luxury car, too.

Competition is fierce in the RL's $40,000 to $55,000 price range. Everybody is chasing the prestigious Mercedes E and BMW 5. Acura talks about only 12,000 to 15,000 sales a year for the new RL. They may be playing it safe with the estimates, but even that would be a big improvement over the old model.

The RL isn't the only new challenger in this part of the market. Three other new cars will join the fray over the next 12 months. One contender is the Cadillac STS, a handsome new model, rear-drive (all-wheel-drive is an option), available with either a six- or eight-cylinder engine. Coming in spring 2005 is a new Nissan Infiniti M45, a big redesign of the stodgy existing model. About the same time, Toyota's (nyse: TM - news - people ) Lexus division will launch a new, sleekly styled GS sedan. All these new sedans look good, which means that Acura is not going to get a free ride just because it has an attractive new model.

A strong euro versus the dollar poses another problem for the German rivals. The German sedans in this part of the market are pushing into the $60,000 territory, while the new competitors, hungry for business, may keep their prices lower.

One more car charging into the fight: the Chrysler 300C, which is on sale now. This 300 isn't quite in the German luxury class, but with the wonderful optional Hemi engine and all-wheel drive (available by fall), some buyers are likely to cross-shop this sedan against the best from Europe and Japan. A fully loaded 300C will run just under $40,000. So look out Acura, Infiniti, Cadillac and Lexus. Ready or not, here comes Chrysler.

source
 

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...of course, before putting too much stock in the automotive expertise of Forbes.com writers, one should note that the vehicles in the Acura sales graphic above are not Acuras. :blink:
 

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Originally posted by coolcaddy@Apr 20 2004, 05:14 PM
...of course, before putting too much stock in the automotive expertise of Forbes.com writers, one should note that the vehicles in the Acura sales graphic above are not Acuras. :blink:
ROFL! :roflmao:
 

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...of course, before putting too much stock in the automotive expertise of Forbes.com writers, one should note that the vehicles in the Acura sales graphic above are not Acuras.
that graphic depicts their competition, not their cars. jeez, some people just don't get it......
 
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Cool Caddy - I think your headline should have a question mark in it (Acura Rising?).

I think Acura, Lexus and Infiniti shook up the industry a few years ago, but I really don't see them maintaining their image. Cadillac is making inroads with a combination of quality, performance and style. The new 300C should be considered by anyone looking to purchase any of the Japanese luxury cars, or any luxury car for that matter. Perceptions are still a big thing. As long as the consumer has the 'perception' that the Japanese product is better, then their sales will continue.

Personally, I don't see any substance from the likes of Lexus, Acura and Infiniti. Buick, I think is poised if they can make the Velite, with it's materials and style then placed onto other Buick's. Buick's (GM's) biggest challenge is their name. Lexus owners snicker when they see a Buick or any GM product. Consistently producing 'kick @ss' products "should" do the trick. I say "should" in quotes because the perceptions of foreign products run deep. It's more sexy, etc. People just don't wanna own domestic.

Lexus I think is still the 'top dog'. Acura and Infiniti, I think, are bit players.

It'll be interesting to see how this turns out.

<_<
 

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Originally posted by coolcaddy@Apr 20 2004, 09:14 PM
...of course, before putting too much stock in the automotive expertise of Forbes.com writers, one should note that the vehicles in the Acura sales graphic above are not Acuras. :blink:
Agreed! It makes zero sense to put a picture of a Lexus concept in the backdrop of a tally of Acura's US sales. Of course, maybe Flint is indicating that there is no worthy Acura to place within the graph. Anyway...

Your point about Flint, in general, is well taken. I cannot but wholly disagree with his overall optimistic appraisal of the new RL. It's not that it's offensive. It's just more of the same, in my opinion, and as he admitted. The three major problems with the present RL have not been remedied with the new version. It's not RWD, it's not more luxurious looking inside or out (IMO), and it has no V-8 - an RL against an E-500 or 545i?! Yeah, not so much, even if the Bimmer and Merc are more expensive and if the RL has 300-hp. As mentioned previously, the RL possesses the same basic silhouette as essentially all Acura and Honda sedans. It's dated, and I honestly was anticipating more from the new RL.

Frankly, I'm amazed that Acura sales have climbed so strongly, though it seems solely a result of the rather pleasing MDX.

I think Cadillac's plan with the STS, in which RWD and AWD, along with a V-6 and a V-8, seems to be more of a winning plan. I think this will result in the STS's easily eclipsing the new RL in just about every way, including sales.

Honda is correct in conservatively estimating an increase in Acura sales to a meager 15,000 units next year.
 

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I think its pretty clear that Acura and Infiniti really do not get luxury. Acura feels like a Honda Accord, which is a compliment to the Accord, insult for the TL.
 

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I think its pretty clear that Acura and Infiniti really do not get luxury. Acura feels like a Honda Accord, which is a compliment to the Accord, insult for the TL.
have you BEEN in an Acura? i don't mean an old one, but a new TL, or an RSX. how about an MDX? how about driven one? Acura totally gets luxury, but it's more of a sporty luxury, like BMW. how can someone who is a Cadillac buff dog Acura or Infiniti? the interiors of today's Cadillacs look cheap, and lower class. the exteriors, even on the "art and science" vehicles, are boring, and cheesy looking. get real. Acura gets it. Infiniti gets it. Cadillac.... doesn't get it.
 

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The MDX WAS good, but now its way behind everyone. Caddy is now king!
I have driven the new TL, and yes the interior is very nice, but equal in quality to Honda, which isnt bad but there isnt a difference like a Toyota to Lexus. Not to mention itl cant be considerd a real compeditive car if they want to stay FWD. The CTS, G35, 3series, C and A6 will still be a much better car when compared to the TL.
The RSX... please. Nothing all to amazing there. No real style, but thats not my taste. They are lucky no one really makes a quazi-luxury sports compact. Same with teh TSX. Why get a TSX when the IS300 is there? Better luxury, and better performance.
Caddy doesnt it get it in your mind, but sales talk volumes. Acura is a good everyday nice car, but Caddy is jumping up to the front of the class. Acura cant keep going on making rebadged Hondas. Lexus learned that.
Acura needs to be the target for Pontiac.
 

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Originally posted by SUPERBADD75@Apr 21 2004, 02:09 AM
have you BEEN in an Acura? i don't mean an old one, but a new TL, or an RSX. how about an MDX? how about driven one? Acura totally gets luxury, but it's more of a sporty luxury, like BMW. how can someone who is a Cadillac buff dog Acura or Infiniti? the interiors of today's Cadillacs look cheap, and lower class. the exteriors, even on the "art and science" vehicles, are boring, and cheesy looking. get real. Acura gets it. Infiniti gets it. Cadillac.... doesn't get it.
"have you BEEN in an Acura?" Yes, though I've never owned one.

"but a new TL, or an RSX." Yes and yes, as well as a TSX.

"...how about an MDX?" Nope, but I said that the MDX is a great vehicle.

"...how about driven one?" Yup.

"...how can someone who is a Cadillac buff dog Acura or Infiniti? the interiors of today's Cadillacs look cheap, and lower class. the exteriors, even on the "art and science" vehicles, are boring, and cheesy looking." As mentioned countless times on this site, styling is subjective, though there are more folks who vote with their dollars in favor of the Art & Science design than Acura's Been-there-done-that design.

"Acura gets it." Yeah, but reality speaks otherwise. Cadillac's car sales are waxing, while Acura's are waning. So perhaps you're in the minority in believing that Acura builds super cars?
 

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I think one the point that's been missed in discussing Acura's flagging sedan sales: The cars are BORING. I've been in several recent Acuras, and while they are extremely well screwed together, the driving experience can be compared to spending time in a sensory deprivation chamber. There's no character and no sense of fun. I think this has disappointed the "typical" Acura owner who expect at least SOME sport and luxury. It's the same knock that Toyota/Lexus has had for years: The ride is TOO compliant, the engine is inaudible and the handling too pedestrian.

They're all GREAT cars, but they lack passion.
 

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Oh, and you gotta love it when a financial rag like Forbes tries to be a car magazine. I can't wait until Rolling Stone tries to tell me the Scion xB is a high-performance vehicle.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Originally posted by SUPERBADD75@Apr 20 2004, 01:43 PM
...of course, before putting too much stock in the automotive expertise of Forbes.com writers, one should note that the vehicles in the Acura sales graphic above are not Acuras.
that graphic depicts their competition, not their cars. jeez, some people just don't get it......
No, the graphic depicts Acura's sales, not their competitors. The letters A-C-U-R-A and S-A-L-E-S provide a clue as to whose sales the graphic is meant to illustrate.

Rather than provide a knee-jerk defense to the poor slob whose job it was to create that graphic, I'd think you would rather tout the strong case for Acura made by the author. For an Acura fan like you, this is a very positive article, right?

FWIW, I've given my opinion before, but I like to hear myself repeat it :D : I'm a Honda nut--I've had five Hondas and each one represented a perfectly satisfactory ownership experience.

This is why Acuras are so disappointing to me. They should be "the Honda of luxury cars"--that is, as perfect a luxury car as Honda is a low-end or mid-range car--but they really don't impart a feeling of being real luxury cars, as if Honda isn't trying very hard to make the distinction. They're very nice Hondas, but don't quite reach the sort of threshold that their Japanese competitors reach relative to their workaday brands.

These things are subjective of course, but as you can read here and elsewhere, the opinion that Acura is a second-rate luxury brand seems fairly pervasive.
 

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...BTW Superbadd, In addition to being a fellow Honda fan, I'm also a fellow Spongebob fan (that is, I assume you're also a Spongebob fan judging by your new avatar); and, based on some of your posts, we also have similar politics.

So don't hate me for being less than enthusiastic about Acuras. :D
 

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So don't hate me for being less than enthusiastic about Acuras.
i don't hate you, coolcad, as a matter of fact, i kind of like what you say... sometimes. i agree, Acura needs rear or all wheel drive, but i don't agree that they are boring or disappointing. they are great cars. the interiors are beautiful, sporty, well put together. they are not really luxurious, and i don't think the intention is to be luxurious. they are more of a sporty premium car, and i think that they have that look down. but they are high quality. nice leather, higher grade plastics, and everything goes together very well. i think Cadillac is on the way, but i think Acura is already there. they just need AWD really quick. then they will be a true Audi style Japanese car.
 
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