Hondas luxury division claims residual value award and a first in IIHS history as luxury vehicle sales continue to fall and model updates result in some questionable re-designs.
Launched amid much fanfare in 1986, Acura was the first luxury division of any Japanese automaker and the first to challenge German supremacy in the luxury vehicle segment. The Legend sedan quickly became a, well, legend, while the smaller Civic-based Integra, with its twin-cam 16-valve 4-cylinder engine became a favorite of dink (dual income no kids) yuppies-in-training and set the stage for the embryonic rice-rocket tuner market in the U.S.
1992 Integra GS-R
Acura cruised into the ‘90’s with a fairly decent model lineup. Although the second generation Integra saw the discontinuation of the 5-door hatchback and the style was less sporty, power was up and the addition of the GS-R version kept it competitive. The second generation Legend was also an improvement over the first, but again, the styling seemed somewhat bland and by this time, Toyota had entered the market with its Lexus division and upped the ante with more refinement as well as a V-8 engine.
The rest, as they say, is history
The second half of the ‘90’s saw Acura begin re-name its models – replacing the Legend with “RL”. Two additional models were added – the TL and the CL, along with a re-badged Isuzu Trooper SUV called the SLX. Even the NSX, arguably one of the best sports cars on the planet when it was introduced in 1990 was allowed to soldier on with only minor modifications for 15 years.
2003 RSX Type S
But as the 1990’s gave way to the new millennium, Acura began the process of re-inventing itself. The RSX and TSX, 3-door and 4-door replacements for the Integra, were big hits – especially the TSX. The new TL also became an immediate best seller and became the best selling car in its class for three years running. The MDX sport utility vehicle was also a top-seller and by 2001, Acura was selling 170,469 vehicles a year – shattering the previous record set 10 years earlier.
Acura recently announced two milestones. The first milestone, announced by the Automotive Lease Guide (ALG), is that the Acura brand ranked first in overall luxury brand residual value in the 2009 Residual Value Awards. This means that Acura, as a brand, is expected to retain the highest percentage of its purchase price, of any luxury brand, after three years.
The second milestone, also announced in late November, is that for the first time in the history of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), every vehicle for an automotive nameplate –Acura - has earned the rating of Top Safety Pick for 2009. To put this into perspective, Saab, with 2 fewer models, placed only one model in this category; Volvo, with the same number of tested models, had 3 models that were Top Picks, while Mercedes-Benz, with 4 tested models, managed to garner only 2 Top Safety Picks.
Acura continues to chart a back-and-forth course. Overall sales are down “only” 16% for the year, while October vehicle deliveries were off by 22%. The new corporate chevron grill looks better on the smaller models and sales reflect that – the new TL reported a 22% increase in sales for October, while the RL fell almost 26%. With total yearly sales that will probably fall below 145,000 and industry predictions of an especially soft market for luxury and near-luxury vehicles for the next 2 years, the near-term outlook for Acura is, even with the recent accolades, guarded.