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The Practitioner of Japanese Luxury Brand – Acura Brand History

Speaking of the Acura brand, now we will first think of it as Honda’s luxury car brand, will think of the sharp shape of TL, and also think of the MDX that off-road performance dare to compete with European SUVs. This is our affirmation of the Acura brand, technology and products. Can anyone still remember that Acura, the first Japanese luxury car brand, was doubtful at the beginning of its birth in the United States 25 years ago, and its reputation and sales legend created by its excellent products? Now, let’s get to know the first practitioner of Japanese luxury brand from doubt to praise – Acura.

Acura’s founding background
Honda’s gambling to open up new markets in North America

As we all know, Acura is a luxury car brand of Honda Motors in Japan, but it was born in the United States, or it is a brand that Honda created to capture the North American luxury car market. We also know that in the 1970s when Japanese car companies invaded the US auto market, in addition to the stable quality of their products, the most important reason is the advantage of Japanese cars’ low fuel consumption and low prices. This was due to the oil crisis and economic depression and the guidance of US policies and regulations. Honda has also become a leader in the sales of economical cars in the US market with Civic and other economic and environmental friendly and reliable quality models.

However, in the 1980s, with the oil crisis going away and the arrival of economic recovery, the demand for luxury cars in the US auto market surged and the competition was extremely fierce. European luxury brands represented by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, occupying the high-end market rely on their luxury models and excellent performance. But at this time, Honda only has three models that are specifically prepared for people with financial budget awareness. Even the most expensive Accord among them is far less than $20,000, and basic luxury equipment, such as power windows and leather interiors were rarely seen in Honda’s products at that time, so there was such a dilemma: after the income growth of early Honda owners, because there was no Honda model to choose from, they switched to European luxury Brand. Although Honda was developing a premium model that was positioned above the Accord model, considering the economic and practical inherent image of the Honda brand that has been deeply rooted in the hearts of Americans, a gambling-like idea was ready to launched among Honda executives. That is launch the world’s first Japanese luxury car brand.

Early 1980s to 1986: the brewing and birth of the Acura brand under Honda
The second sales network division started

We mentioned that in the early 1980s, Honda developed a new premium model positioned above the Accord model in order to enter the luxury car market. It was called HX inside Honda and was later named Legend, which used independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, and equipped with advanced stereo sound, air conditioning, anti-lock brakes and other advanced configurations at that time, priced at 20,000 US dollars, almost double price of the Honda Accord basic model at that time. But the problem also ensues. If this luxury car is sold through Honda’s original dealer channels, it will not only overload the already busy existing dealers, but also Honda executives believe that it is extremely uncoordinated to sell this high-priced model together with Civic. Therefore, in order to meet the needs of luxury car buyers, Honda will launch a new business division. It will be completely separate from Honda, use a unified and independent distribution system, provide first-class customer service and a premier sales experience, and the new business division pursues luxury and performance. Internally, it is called the second sales network.

1984: Acura brand name was officially born

In February 1984, American Honda Company officially confirmed its high-end market development direction. The second sales network has become a topic of contention among the media, and there is no lack of criticism. Some critics believe that the idea of creating a Japanese luxury car brand especially from a company known for producing economical cars, is just an unrealistic fantasy. Indeed, European luxury brands represented by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi occupied the North American high-end car market at that time. Even the three major US automakers can’t compared with European luxury brands, not to mention the Japanese economy car manufacturers. Although no one doubts that Honda can make excellent cars, almost no one believes that Honda can compete with European luxury brands.

No matter how the media commented, Honda is determined to break into the luxury car market. The new business division needed a new name, and the task of naming the second sales network fell to Ira Bachrach’s Namelab in San Francisco, California. In September 1984, the new name was officially announced: Acura. The name comes from the Latin “acu”, which means fine processing or superb processing technology.

1986: Acura brand dealership officially opened

On March 27, 1986, the outlet of the Acura brand officially opened in the United States, announcing the official birth of the Acura brand. There are 60 Acura sales stores in the first batch, and the dealer network covers 18 states in the United States. All dealers have been screened with extremely strict standards. The dealers must have sufficient funds to support the construction of new sales stores. And Acura management insists on setting up sales stores in major markets, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and places where sales of luxury cars are strong across the United States. In addition, the new sales store is separated from the existing Honda sales store and can’t even be next to each other. Moreover, the storefront should be unique in appearance, which can distinguishing it from the Honda sales store. With the official sale of the first Acura sedan, Honda’s luxury brand that has been preparing for many years has officially entered the US market. At the same time, Honda has become the first Japanese manufacturer to dare to occupied the US luxury car market. In the United States, the eyes of major auto companies have focused on the Acura brand. Everyone wants to see if Honda’s bold approach can work, especially other Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota and Nissan.

1986-1987: Acura brand growth in the initial stage, with sales to break doubts and achieve success
At the beginning of its birth, it is still under suspicion

It is conceivable that when the first batch of Acura began to sell, there was still a doubt in the mass media and Acura’s competing brands. On the opening day of Acura, Acura’s senior leader Schmillen and the then president of Volvo North America appeared on the famous NBC “Today Show” interview show, the latter stated the attitude of most European manufacturers towards Acura: “Although people like Japanese cars with excellent quality and reasonable price,” he said, “but I don’t think they have the ability to really enter the American luxury car market.” Schmillen calmly responded after listening. “15 years ago, we were not in this market. We have grown from zero to today’s sales of 500,000 vehicles, we think we can continue to maintain this development momentum,” he responded.

Rely on two excellent products to perform well in the US market

The first models launched by Acura brand are the Legend 4-door sedan, 5-door hatchback and 3-door sports models, instead of only launched Legend model. Because the Acura brand executives have long thought that if there is only one car model and it is so expensive, it will be too risky when it launched. So it is necessary to follow HX and launch another model with a slightly lower configuration than HX, without losing the luxury and performance pursued by the second sales network. Fortunately, a solution was found in the Japanese market, this is Quint-Integra. Integra is equipped with a dual-cam 16-valve 4-cylinder fuel injection engine, with an advanced chassis adjustment system and a striking appearance. Its stylish shape, advanced technology and excellent performance are a powerful complement to HX and the new business division.

1987: Acura’s high sales broke outside doubts

History proves that Schmillen is correct. By the end of the first year, Acura had sold 52,869 new cars, and the number of dealers had increased to 150. In 1987, in the second year of the brand’s creation, Acura’s annual sales reached 109,470 vehicles, which is more than any European luxury car sold in the US market, which silenced the most critical critics and proved that Acura is a new force in the luxury car market. By the end of 1987, Acura’s cars and sports cars had won series awards and established a reputation as a luxury car brand. Legend and Integra respectively won the comparative test, and even the most harsh critics have to admire their strength. Integra and the Legend Coupe became members of the Acura family in 1987 and were selected as the top 10 cars of the Car and Driver. The Legend Coupe won the Motor Trend 1987 import car award, and Road and Track ranked Legend Coupe as one of the top 10 cars in the world.

However, the most important sign of Acura’s success was that in the second half of 1987, Toyota and Nissan announced that they plans to add their own luxury car divisions. The follow-up of other Japanese companies irrefutably corroborates the success of the Honda luxury car brand in the North American market.

1987-1999: medium term development of Acura brand
1987-1989: excellent products perform well

With Acura products gaining a foothold in the North American market, its brand development has entered a stage of steady improvement. Two of its models have set records for the sales of luxury cars in the North American market, and have been repeatedly praised: In 1987, the first airbag-equipped sedan in the Acura brand family, the Legend Coupe, went offline and quickly won the “Annual Imported Car” award by “Motor Trend” magazine; in 1988, Legend became the best-selling luxury imported model in the US market, and Integra also won the international car championship. Acura has been the sales champion of imported luxury cars in the US for two consecutive years. But the Acura brand did not stop the pace of new model development. In 1989, the second-generation Integra 3-door sedan and 4-door sports sedan series came out one after another.

1989: Acura brand logo officially came out

At the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, Acura unveiled the new NSX, the third car in the three-product strategy to the luxury car market. The new NSX is the first mass-produced model with an aluminum single-shell body. It is equipped with the first engine with VTEC. It is equipped with a titanium connecting rod mass-production engine for the first time. At the same time, when the NSX was officially launched in 1990, it was the first model with the Acura logo. Initially, Acura used a caliper specifically for accurate measurement as the prototype of the LOGO. As the finishing touch, Honda founder and spiritual leader – Soichiro Honda added a small horizontal bar between the two pincers. The pictographic capital letter “A” is used to represent this brand. Both the Latin original meaning and the caliper as the logo prototype imply the core values of Acura, which represents the highest level of car-making brand: accuracy, precision and refinement.

1990-1998: Old products are replaced, new products emerge one after another

Acura has not stopped in its core products. Although Legend and Integra redefine their market scope and performed well in the market, Honda still redesigned these two cars in the early 1990s. The 1990 Integra is larger, with a more powerful engine, a more luxurious interior and more refined ride comfort and maneuverability. Then came the 1991 Legend sedan and sports car, which were bigger, more powerful and more luxurious. The new Legend has consolidated this model’s position in the luxury car market, and it has led the US market as the best-selling luxury imported model for six consecutive years. Both of these vehicles have expanded the territory of the Acura luxury car market, while confirming the company’s slogan.

In the early 1990s, with the launch of NSX and the new Integra and Legend, Acura entered a stage of rapid product development: in 1994, Acura added the NSX car with removable roof to the 1995 product series; in 1995, Acura TL was officially put on the market, and the later launch of 1996 TL marked the beginning of Acura’s letter-named product series; in 1996, Acura CL was introduced to the market, which marked the beginning of a new era in the Acura history, because the design, manufacture and production of CL were completed in the United States, which became a precedent for Acura’s future models; in 1998, the TL with 225 horsepower and 3.2-liter V6 engine debuted.

1990s: Acura brand develops steadily

Although it seems that the Acura brand developed smoothly in the North American market in the early 1990s, in fact, the North American luxury car market changed again during this period. Toyota and Nissan became new challengers in 1990, making existing European brands realize that they must change their products and prices to cope with new Japanese competitors. The US economy is facing another recession, the exchange rate of the Yen against the US dollar is strong, so the price advantage of Japanese cars suddenly disappeared. As the global economy continues to slump, the luxury car market has begun to shrink, and sales from all manufacturers have declined. Despite the launch of new models and accompanying great reviews, Acura was still affected by the economic situation at the time. Acura responded to the harsh reality of Yen fluctuations in a unique way. It avoids the influence of the exchange rate market by completing the assembly of some vehicles in the United States. This is the first time that imported luxury brands have done this. The first car designed, manufactured, and assembled in the United States was a 1996 2.2-liter CL sports car, and then launched a 3.0-liter CL equipped with a V6 engine. As Acura sales began to rise in the last five years of the 1990s, US production increased, and by 1999, more than half of Acura sold in the United States were assembled in the United States.

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the stock market tended to prosper and sales of luxury cars increased. Since 1995, Acura sales have rebounded again. With a solid reputation for technological innovation, Acura can calmly reposition itself in the crowded luxury car camp, connecting itself with the technology-focused public. The first example of Acura’s revival spirit is the 1999 TL. Like the previous CL, TL’s design, development and production are also carried out in the United States. There are many standard configurations marked with 1999 TL. The only optional equipment is a navigation system based on DVD. The new TL immediately caused shock in the public and the press, and became the best-selling model in its class for the following three years. A year later, the redesigned CL also received praise. It also improves the equipment grade. The S series model is equipped with a 260 horsepower engine and sports adjustment suspension. With these excellent products, Acura once again established its foothold in the US market. After successfully passing the test of peer competition and economic turmoil in the 1990s, Acura undoubtedly became more powerful and proactive. After more than ten years of development, no one doubts the success of Acura. As the first Japanese car company to enter the American luxury car market, Acura brand’s birth story in the United States is closer to a legend.

2000-2010: the development of Acura brand in the new century
2000-2004: continue to develop North American market with new products

In 2000, Acura upgraded again, launching its first SUV – MDX, which was completed by itself from design to development. As another model developed in the United States, MDX quickly achieved success. Acura’s reputation for innovation is even better known for the advent of MDX. Navigation system has become the industry benchmark. Its third row of seats can be reclined, flush with the floor, which is completely impossible for its competitors. The four-wheel drive system with variable torque management gives MDX off-road power without sacrificing driving pleasure on the road. It is also the first luxury SUV to meet ULEV (ultra-low emission vehicles) standards.

In 2001, the new Acura sports car RSX was launched. It continued to improve Acura’s product line with genes derived from the competition platform. In this year, Acura announced its year-end sales of 170,469 vehicles, breaking its record set in 1991. Despite the short-term economic downturn at the beginning of the new century, Acura sales have maintained a strong momentum, demonstrating the value of its strategy of producing vehicles in the United States. After going through the 1990s step by step, the Acura brand once again entered a new height of brand development at the beginning of the new century.

The new TL, which came out in 2004, has an Italian-style design, a 270-horsepower v6 engine and a 6-speed manual configuration. The combination of these elements has led to a surge in Acura sales. In the same year, Acura launched the European version of the Honda Accord TSX, which is a cheap challenger for BMW 3 series models. This car replaced integra as the only 4-cylinder saloon in the Acura family. The new RL was launched in 2005. This time, it is equipped with a 300-horsepower v6 engine, a more exciting design, and a super-control four-wheel drive system (sh-awd), allowing the car to continuously distribute the most suitable torque to the front, rear, left and right wheel.

Although the Acura brand is only 25 years old, as the first Japanese manufacturer to dare to establish a luxury brand in North America, its success is obvious to all. Although no one is optimistic about it at the beginning, but in today’s view, those doubts and criticism have become the most attractive part of its success story. Although it is very popular in the United States, in the Chinese market, the Acura brand is obviously not going well. But I believe this is only the beginning. Acura is paying more and more attention to developing markets outside North America, and its new legend story continues.

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