February 9, 2012 3:49 PM | By Jeremy Sinek for MSN Autos

Twenty-five years and counting: What's next for Acura

Acura NSX Concept, ILX Concept, RDX Concept (© Photo: Acura)

The next-generation of Acura

To survive its next quarter-century, Acura is getting back in touch with its core values
Thinking back to Japan Inc.'s original entry into the global luxury-car market, it's all too easy to think of Lexus first. At its launch in 1989, Toyota's new luxury brand held nothing back. The large LS 400 sedan set its sights high — on the prestige flagships of the European luxury fleet — and landed its first salvo right on target. The speed of its acceptance as a prestige brand was almost shocking.

1986 Acura Legend (© Photo: Acura)

1986 Acura Legend

It's easy to forget that Lexus was following a course already set by Honda. Toyota's smaller rival was the first Japanese automaker to create a luxury brand when it launched Acura in 1986.

Acura wasn't as ambitious as Lexus, however. Its flagship sedan, the Legend, was a front-driver powered by a 2.7-litre V6; the Lexus LS4 00 met the European elite head-on with rear-wheel drive and a 4.0-litre V8. The Porsche-baiting NSX supercar, launched in 1991, was certainly a landmark, and cemented Acura's credibility among twenty-somethings already smitten with small, sporty Acuras like the Integra. But the Integra was gone by 2001, and the broader market remained unmoved by Acura's largest sedan offerings. Unlike Lexus, Acura never attained Tier 1 status. A luxury brand, perhaps, but never a prestige marque.

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There have been good times

2006 Acura TL Type-S (© Photo: Acura)

2006 Acura TL Type-S

In 1999 the then-new Gen-2 TL was the top-selling entry-luxury sedan and was runner-up the following two years. Between 2001 and 2005, Acura averaged almost 24,000 sales a year in Canada. Not only did the Canada-exclusive EL, the RSX, the TL and later the TSX contribute significant volume, but by then Acura was also in the SUV business with the MDX.

Even so, Acura's best year in Canada was way back in 2001 (the first full year of the MDX). Even with the MDX contributing 4,000-5,000 sales a year, passenger-car sales were on a slide, and pulling down total sales with them. In 2007 the advent of the smaller RDX doubled Acura's SUV sales — but car sales fell so sharply that total sales shrink again, to just over 20,000. For the first time, combined sales of Acura cars — now CSX, TSX, TL and RL — were outnumbered by the two SUVs.

By 2011, Acura Canada sales had swooned to 15,272 from their 2001 high of almost 26,000. Even more tellingly, passenger-car sales had shrivelled to 6,739, from almost 22,000 in 2001.

But, "We are not turning away from this thing," said executive vice-president Jerry Chenkin at a press briefing. "We expect loyal Honda owners to stay in the family (and) move up into the Acura brand."

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