Often it is not the discoverer of the idea who becomes famous, but the more talented follower. For example, many still believe that Lexus became the first Japanese luxury brand. But the first were the Honda people, who invented the Acura. And today, Acura and Lexus still compete for the hearts of the US buyers. The Indy Auto Man car specialists offer a small excursion into the history of the Japanese trendsetter.
How It All Began
At the turn of the 70s and 80s, the American automobile industry was going through hard times. During this instability, there was an unprecedented demand for inexpensive, reliable cars, which Japanese concerns succeeded in taking advantage of. During this wave, Honda quickly gained a reputation among ordinary Americans as a brand that produces outstanding cars in terms of price and quality.
But when the turbulence ended, and the situation in the country improved, the Americans quickly forgot about the inexpensive Japanese autos.
True patriots preferred Cadillac and Lincoln, while freethinkers chose BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar. This situation did not suit the Honda owners at all. They believed that they had something to offer picky customers.
At the same time, top management understood that even an excellent vehicle offered under the Honda brand was unlikely to win the preference from the high-fed public. Despite all the technology and reliability, Japanese cars lacked history, chic, and a big name. And a brilliant decision was made – to start from scratch, to create a completely new brand with its logo, model range, and a separate net of dealerships.
The name for the new luxury auto brand was invented by the famous American agency NameLab. It contained the Latin morpheme “acu”, denoting accuracy and precision. The authors of the brand also made it consonant with the word “sakura” (a blossoming cherry tree, one of the unspoken symbols of Japan), whether intentionally or not.
The brand’s sign is a stylized letter A in the form of a caliper, a tool engineers use for precise parts measurements. The logo, which appeared on cars only in the 90s, personifies the technical and design superiority of Acura cars. If looks closely, one will see an interesting detail: the letter A is a slightly curved letter H, a clever reference to the mother name Honda.
The Magnificent Two: Acura First Models
The role of the flagship was assigned to the model created in 1981 as part of a project codenamed HX. It was to be a large sedan, bigger than the then-current Accord, the top of Honda’s lineup. The model, later named Legend, received the first six-cylinder engine in the history of the brand, as well as a fully independent suspension, disc brakes on all wheels, and a rich basic package with air conditioning, ABS, and full power accessories.
But introducing a new brand to the market with only one model would be pure madness. The manufacturer found a solution quickly enough – the Legend’s partner was the Integra coupe, which had already been selling in Japan under the Honda brand and had no left-hand drive analogs. This model had everything to compete with sports cars of that time: a powerful engine with direct injection, a balanced chassis, and an outstanding design.
Start of Sales and Success
In May 1985, the Acura Automobile Division was presented internally to Honda employees as a new luxury branch. Since the start of sales was planned in a year, they opened specialized training centers in several US cities, where personnel mastered new Acura technologies – two engines developed from scratch, electronic injection, and other components, including advanced suspensions.
On March 27, 1986, 60 dealership centers began operating in the United States, and it is considered the official birthday of the new brand. In the first nine months of sales, Acura sold more than 50 thousand cars and increased the number of dealers to 150. Without slowing down, in mid 1986 the Japanese launched an aggressive advertising campaign to support the new brand.
The number of customers was growing, imbued with the idea that a prestigious car could be not only European or American. Acura sold over 100 thousand cars in 1987 – more than Mercedes-Benz and BMW did. After this, even the most incredulous critics were forced to admit that a new leader had emerged in the luxury car market.
Legend and Integra invariably won in comparative tests with European and American counterparts, getting into the top ten most prestigious cars in the world according to various publications. In 1987, the range of models expanded by a coupe version based on the flagship sedan. The Legend Coupe received the title of the 1987 Import Car of the Year, according to the authoritative Motor Trend magazine. The unprecedented success of Honda’s luxury brand prompted its sworn friends Nissan and Toyota to create similar divisions. As a result, in the early 90s, in response to the prestigious German trio, an equally luxurious Japanese one appeared: Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti.