By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. After years of flailing around trying to be something it’s not, Acura, allegedly the best that Honda can muster as a car company has, according to industry sources and confirmed by Automotive News, alighted on a new strategy that will propel it into the future. The answer? All-wheel-drive.
Yes, Acura, seemingly completely out of ideas, has thrown up its hands and decided that it will pattern itself after Subaru and adopt all-wheel-drive across the board.
Wow, that’s some revelation.
Not that there aren’t some markets across the country where AWD is basically mandatory, and any manufacturer worth its salt has to offer it as a matter of course, but really? This is the brilliant idea that will solidify the Acura product strategy going forward?
I don’t get it.
Remember, this is the Honda Motor Company we’re talking about, a car company with a glittering history of innovative ideas and a corporate mantra of pushing the envelope on the race track – on two (MotoGP) and four (Formula 1) wheels – and on the street with advanced technology and clear-eyed future-think that propelled the company to greatness.
As a matter of fact, though it’s hard to believe now, at one point Honda was considered the Porsche of the Asian automakers, a company that mirrored the personality of its founder - an inspired maverick who marched to his own drummer - a company whose innovative mindset stood out in a sea of automakers that moved from one technical progression to the next without rhyme or reason, in lockstep with whatever the current thinking was at the time.
Honda was at once inspired and inspiring in this business, and Acura was supposed to be the best of Honda, so what happened?
Mediocrity happened. And corporate conservatism swallowed the Honda mindset whole. And Acura suffered exponentially because of it. Yesterday’s brilliant Acura NSX and hot Integra models gave way to a mind-numbing parade of forgettable sedans and crossovers wrapped in uninspired sheet metal that said nothing about “the best of Honda.” Instead, they said everything about filling a segment in a rote dance of being present and accounted for in the market, and little else.
Oh, there were exceptions in the ensuing years, but you get the point. Honda had abandoned its sense of urgency to create and innovate, and instead careened around the market acting like everyone else, or worse - as in Acura’s case - as a follower, something that was anathema to Honda’s glorious past.
We’ve been hearing for the last few years now that Honda – and Acura – has its mojo back, that they have finally got it goin’ on in industry parlance, and that the good times are right around the corner. But is there really any evidence of that? Or is it just so much smoke-and-mirrors marketing, or what car companies specialize in when they’re juggling, for all intents and purposes, nothing?
Yes, the production version of the new Acura NSX will finally make its debut in Detroit in January, and that is supposed to be the tip of Honda’s technological spear in the market and a signal that it all goes right from that point forward.
The new, mid-engined NSX, though clearly derivative in design, is of course jammed with advanced hybrid technology, etc., and all the obligatory accoutrements that signal a serious automaker in today’s global automotive environment, but beyond that it’s a giant “we’ll see” as to whether the car is symbolic of the new Honda and Acura, or just a singular presence in the Honda-Acura product portfolio that signifies not much else.
In other words is the new NSX just a technological show pony that exists in a vacuum? Or does it mean that Honda well and truly does have the bit in its teeth once again and that it is going to start showing the world its technological prowess and its creative thinking?
But in the meantime there’s real cause for concern in that we have Acura management operatives thinking out loud in the press – always a bad idea, by the way - that maybe, just maybe, all-wheel-drive will be the product stake in the ground that will turn Acura’s fortunes around and get Honda’s best back on track.
It strikes me as industry “me-too-ism” of the worst kind. AWD should be a sidebar, as in, “Oh, by the way, yes, we do have AWD available across the depth and breadth of our entire portfolio.” It certainly shouldn’t be the focal point of a new product direction for Acura, because in today’s automotive world offering AWD is merely the price of entry, no more, no less.
So color me skeptical when Acura management operatives insist that they have it goin’ on and that the good times are just around the corner, because I’m not seeing it.
Instead, I’m seeing a once-proud extension of Honda’s corporate soul flailing about, throwing anything they can get their hands on up against the wall to see what sticks.
That’s neither creative nor innovative, it’s just another reminder that Acura has so lost its way that they don’t really have a clue as to how to get back.
And it stinks.
But beyond that it’s just sad. It’s sad that this once-proud car company has resorted to following instead of leading and copying instead of innovating, lost in the swirling maelstrom like every other car company in search of a clue.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.