Acura Aims for Slow and Steady Growth in 2018 and Beyond

A senior brand official is hopeful refreshes and variants, as well as the third-gen RDX, can stimulate sales.

Acura is hopeful it can gain volume in 2018, after seeing U.S. sales dip 4.2% last year to 154,602 units.

“We would definitely like to (grow),” Jon Ikeda, general manager of Acura in the U.S., tells WardsAuto in an interview, adding the brand’s mantra is to “(pace) ourselves and try to do better, every year.”

The Honda-owned near-luxury brand hit its high point in the U.S. in 2005 with 209,610 sales, WardsAuto data shows. Since the recession ended, it has hovered in the 150,000- to 200,000-unit range annually. Like many luxury brands, Acura is seeing a sharp falloff in car sales as more and more consumers embrace light trucks.

Acura sold 48,421 cars last year, down from 53,504 in 2016 and nearly 20,000 fewer than the 67,929 cars the brand sold in 2015 in the U.S.

The brand’s best-selling car, the midsize TLX sedan, slipped 6.5% in sales in 2017, to 34,846, while the compact ILX 4-door lost 19.5% of its 2016 volume, falling in 2017 to 11,757 deliveries.

Acura also saw a slight dip in sales of its 2-model light-truck lineup of the RDX and MDX CUVs. MDX sales slipped 1.1%, while RDX deliveries were down 2.0%.

The downward trend for the MDX and RDX continued into last month, when the CUVs fell 9.3% and 7.5%, respectively, on a volume basis.

Acura last year said aggressive incentivizing by competing midsize luxury CUVs hampered RDX, while a lack of inventory was a factor in MDX’s decline. Honda last year shifted MDX production to its East Liberty, OH, plant from Lincoln, AL, in hopes of keeping the pipeline for the CUV flowing.

Meanwhile, Acura car sales grew 9.3% in January, with a refreshed RLX flagship sedan up 67.5% on low volume of 134 units vs. 80 in January 2017.

A new A-Spec variant of the TLX (which has sporty appearance features such as a spoiler and unique wheels) is credited with boosting that car’s January sales 13.2%.

Acura’s other cars, the ILX and NSX supercar, fell 5.3% and 32.0% in January.

Ikeda is noncommittal when asked if the newer, sportier 10th-generation Honda Civic, with its performance-oriented Si and Type R models, is hurting the ILX.

“There’s all kinds of stuff (impacting ILX sales),” he says. “What we like to talk about in the context of being an Acura is, we want to be able to give an Acura experience. It’s not just about the car, you come into the family. You’re in a premium brand. Those are the things we discussed. ILX is ILX and we’re going to keep moving with the ILX.”

Ikeda is hopeful the sedan refreshes and variants, plus the third-gen RDX and the refreshed-in-2017 MDX can stimulate brand sales in 2018. However, he notes the new RDX doesn’t arrive until summer.

“While we are definitely hoping to do well with this (vehicle), we are launching it halfway through the year,” he says, implying its impact on the sales charts may not be significant.

In a separate interview, Henio Arcangeli, senior vice president-Automobile Div. for American Honda, tells WardsAuto the automaker is expecting to sell about 50,000 RDXs in 2018, an annual volume it has seen for the past few years.

An Acura spokesman says the brand wants to attract a wider swath of customers with the new RDX, while Ikeda says Acura has back-burnered studying the China-market small CDX CUV for the U.S.

“Some customers who look at smaller, entry premium CUVs will look at the RDX and see a bigger backseat, nice power, and say, ‘That’s a viable alternative” to an Audi Q3 or Mercedes GLA, the spokesman says.

Despite slow sales, Ikeda praises the NSX for being the brand’s halo, drawing customers to Acura dealerships who may not otherwise walk through the door.

“The NSX is a product that’s not just about numbers,” Ikeda says. “What that car does for us as a brand is just huge. When we put that car in our marketing, it always rates higher than the same commercial we did without the car in there. We’re leveraging it more and more and will focus on selling more, and the more we get out there the better it is for our brand.”

Ikeda concedes NSX awareness isn’t where Acura would like it to be, noting some people who drive it at experiential events don’t know it can be ordered right now at dealerships. Of store stock, Ikeda says Acura is aiming for build-to-order but knows its dealers like to have floor models to attract interest or seal sales.

“For a dealer to sell a TLX A-Spec, (they may want) to give somebody a test drive in the NSX to close the deal on the TLX – it’s a sales tool for them,” he says.

Acura has bet its future on the mantra of “precision-crafted performance,” and still to come toward that goal are an exclusive-to-Acura twin-turbo V-6, as well as the return of the Type S performance sub-brand, both timed to launch in the next few years.

The Type S was last offered on the ’08 TL sedan and went beyond appearance items to include a track-tuned chassis, higher-output engine and bigger brakes.

“There’s a refocus on performance for us,” Ikeda says. “That’s why we invested in NSX, that’s why we’re racing.”

He calls the Type S the “final link to get our core models to link up with the true performance of the NSX.”

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