TARRYTOWN, NY—Acura weathered the triple whammy of the 2008 economic recession and the later natural disasters in both Japan and Thailand, a series of events that put the automobile industry into a fouryear down cycle.
“All things considered, we made it through in pretty good order,” says Mike Accavitti, vice president of US marketing operations.“We’ve been either third or fourth in luxury sales each month.We’re looking at a bright future after a tough spell.”
While that’s a nice position, every corporation wants to be No. 1, and in the automotive industry, one way to grow is to have more models. And that’s just what Acura, the first Japanese luxury brand, is envisioning as the company finishes celebrating its 25th anniversary and looks to the next quarter century.
Accavitti was among the highlevel Acura executives who were in this lovely town on the Hudson River introducing a pair of new entry-level models:
1.The ILX sedan.Think of a gussied up Honda Civic.
2.The RDX compact SUV.Think of a Honda CR-V that’s been to finishing school.
The event was an eye-opener in marketing and the way the auto industry perceives the differences among the nation’s generations; you know, Baby Boomers, Gen X, GenY, and Gen Z.
I’m a Baby Boomer.The way I look at the new vehicles is:“Why pay the extra money for an Acura when I can get a loaded Honda and save a few dollars?”
However, my outlook on purchasing decisions is far from universal.
I don’t have to look any further than my daughter and son-in-law’s garage. Gone is their former Acura TLType-S.They drove that car into the ground and replaced it with a newTL.
When the family expanded, they added an MDX SUV, even though pop kept pointing out thriftier alternatives.
Why did they do it?
“Because that’s what we wanted and we can afford it,” was (and continues to be) the response.
In fact, son-in-law Steve was only half joking when he said,“See if you can bring one of those newAcuras back with you so we can drive it—for 150,000 miles or so.”
It turns out they’re right in Acura’s sweet spot, eventhough they’re Gen Xers.
At the heart of the luxury market, according to Accavitti, is a combination of Boomers (“They still have the biggest share of the market’s wealth”) and GenY buyers.“If you’re in this group, you buy because you want to and can afford to,”says Accavitti.
People’s attitudes towards luxury have changed over the past few years, says Accavitti.“Saving money is considered a virtue these days,” he says.“Check the cars in a Costco parking lot.You’ll see a lot of luxury vehicles out there. And they’re buying more than consumer goods; they’re also buying Costco stock.”
Here are some ways those attitudes towards luxury have changed over the past five years. In 2007, the top five reasons for buying a luxury model were: 1) a well-made vehicle; 2) reliability; 3) fun to drive; 4) manufacturer’s reputation; 5) exterior styling.
In 2011, that had evolved to: 1) value for the money; 2) manufacturer’s reputation; 3) past experience with the brand; 4) fun to drive; 5) reliability.
Interesting, but it still begs the question of why a luxury brand is offering entry-level vehicles.
“GenY (18- to 34-year-olds) grew up with luxury but they’re the first American generation that likely won’t do better economically than their parents,” says Accavitti.“But they have green values, having grown upwith recycling, and theywant to protect the environment.”
Acura’s research shows GenY’s top three perceptions of what makes a car cool are: 1) exterior styling; 2) affordability; 3) environmental friendliness.
“These attitudes and the coming CAFE standard (corporate average fuel economy) of 54.5 mpg by 2025 are moving the market towards Acura’s strengths,”says Accavitti, enumerating studies by J.D. Power, ALG, and Consumer Reports that cite the brand’s efficiency, dependability, quality, reliability, value, and safety.
“Of course, our competitors are moving here, too,”he says, citing yet another study that shows that the ILX’s near-premium (a newmarket segment) will grow by 16 percent by 2017 and the entry premium CUV segment will grow by 12.6 percent in the same period.
First drives of both vehicles showan interesting mix of value, technology, green thinking, and performance.
The ILX comes in a value package with a 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower fourcylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission.The performance version (think Civic SI) has a 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed manual transmission and is a true fun drive.The hybrid version is based on the Civic’s system with a 1.5-liter engine and electric motor assist with a CVT (continuously variable transmission).
The five-passenger RDX has a standard 3.5-liter V-6 with 273 horsepower and a new six-speed automatic transmission. It comes in either front-wheelor all-wheel-drive versions.
“Acura historically has appealed to the rational side,”says Accavitti.“That is, smart luxury that enriches people’s lives.”
A first glance indicates that Acura has hit that sweet spot by mixing value on a luxurious scale with intuitive technology.
It will be a pleasure to have both for a true test—as long as I can keep those Gen X“kids” from absconding with them.Bill Griffith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.