In March 2006, the Honda Motor Company celebrated an important milestone: the 20th anniversary of their luxury brand, Acura. Created to give Honda aficionados an opulent make that they could be proud of, Acura has successfully expanded the company’s reach far beyond more prosaic models such as the Civic and the Accord. Today, Acura is a very different brand than the company that was birthed in 1986. Let’s take a glimpse at Acura’s past, their present lineup, and what the next 20 years may bring for this esteemed Japanese automaker.
Back in 1981, Honda saw an opportunity opening up for itself that no one in Honda’s headquarters wanted to miss out on the building and selling of luxury cars to American consumers. Mercedes and BMW were both gaining traction in the U.S. as American luxury brands Cadillac and Lincoln sputtered and lost market share. Honda was already receiving widespread consumer acceptance and critical acclaim for the three models it was then selling in the U.S., so the decision to market more expensive and upscale cars was viewed as a strong possibility.
When Honda management decided to go with the upscale brand, they did this knowing that the cars would eventually have to stand apart from Honda to command the higher prices. Simply selling up-market Hondas as Acuras would not work. Instead, each car was outfitted and returned to compete directly against the leading luxury cars of that time.
The first two models to be sold as Acuras were the Legend, a V6 powered sedan and coupe, and the Integra, which was essentially a three-door coupe based on a Honda Civic platform. Later, the NSX two-seat roadster was brought out to battle Porsche and the Vigor sedan was introduced to fill the gap between the Integra and the Legend.
Over time, the various model names were dropped and replaced by vehicles with 2 or 3 letter designations. The Vigor became the TL, the Legend became the RL, and the Integra the RSX. Today, the MDX SUV, RSX sport compact, and TSX sedan join the three other models to comprise the current Acura lineup. A slightly smaller SUV, the RDX, will be joining Acura’s lineup later in 2006.
The future of Acura looks bright despite strong worldwide competition. Although Honda jumped into the market a few years before Nissan rolled out its Infiniti division and Toyota its Lexus line, Acura has trailed its Japanese competitors for over a decade now. Some critics have contended that this misstep has hurt Acura, while others see it as a typical conservative Honda decision to expand the Honda brand instead.
Future changes for Acura are sketchy, but model changes will likely include the introduction of diesel-powered vehicles and more hybrid offerings. Some auto critics have suggested that Honda has the capacity of outflanking BMW and Mercedes by producing super luxury sedans and sports cars. Renowned Honda quality combined with European styling, luxury, and engineering has fueled Acura’s success so far. An expansion of this theme to even larger and/or sportier models could vault Acura forward.
Truly, Acura has helped reshape the original perception that many motorists had about the Japanese brands, by delivering vehicles that are high in luxury, tops in engineering, and strong in refinement. If the last 20 years have proved anything it is that enthusiasts can expect much more from Acura over the next two decades. Kudos to the Honda Motor Company for developing a brand that has been so well received.