Acura Going All-In with New TLX

New sport sedan sees largest launch ever for struggling luxury brand.

by on Jul.14, 2014

The new 2015 Acura TLX targets the performance sport sedan market once a stronghold for the old Legend model.

Acura is playing its new TLX sports sedan like a winning poker hand, going all-in on the mid-range model it is launching for 2014.

It may not have any other choice. Despite the strong reception given the Honda subsidiary’s redesigned MDX sport-utility vehicle this year, Acura has continued to struggle with the rest of its line-up, its sedans, in particular, posting double-digit sales declines. But it’s confident that it finally has the right cards in place to ante up with the biggest launch campaign in its 30-year history.

Beyond the Headlines!

“We’re very excited about what the TLX will bring us,” said Mike Accavitti, the executive recently appointed to head Acura, which is gaining more independence from its parent brand in a bid to reverse years of weak sales.  Replacing the old TL model, Accavitti promised that the new TLX “is positioned in the sweet spot of the sedan market. It has the right stuff to put us back in the performance sedan game.”

Acura better hope so.

On the upside, the maker’s recently redesigned MDX has taken off with a vengeance, the SUV now the best-selling luxury three-row model ever. But a 68.4% jump in demand for the first half of 2014 wasn’t enough to offset the overall decline of the brand. In June, the MDX was up 27.7% while Acura, overall, was down 18.6% despite the growth of the overall U.S. market.

Mike Accavitti with a prototype Acura TLX at its preview during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show.

The entry-level ILX sedan, despite Acura’s high hopes, is off 22.1% for the year, and slipped 38.4% in June. And while the flagship RLX is up 33.3% for the year to date, it suffered a sharp 54.1% decline in June.

(The MDX sets an all-time SUV sales record. Click Here for more.)

For his part, Accavitti, a former Chrysler top exec, insists the numbers aren’t as bad as they might first appear. He insists the ILX “is doing its job,” bringing young buyers into the Acura brand for the first time. And the RLX, by opting for front-wheel- and all-wheel-drive, the Acura boss contends, is “a different solution” from the traditional premium luxury design that is showing “some positive momentum.”

But there is little doubt that the TLX will be the vehicle that could determine whether Acura can rise out of the lower tier of the luxury market. It will have to fill a void that Acura hasn’t been able to cover since dropping its once-beloved Legend sports sedan almost two decades ago.

(Acura lands two among top-ranked vehicles in new JD Power Initial Quality Study. Click Here for details.)

The new TLX features a more sporty design language than older Acura products – but one that largely eliminates the much-derided, shield-like chrome “beak,” atop the grille of recent Acura models. The maker also promises a more sporty driving experience.

Sleek design, dynamic ride and handling, and an affordable price tag once worked in Acura’s favor, initially helping it carve out a unique niche as the first luxury brand from Japan. But it began to lose momentum when Toyota’s Lexus and Nissan’s Infiniti debuted in 1989, and hasn’t been able to take advantage of the overall surge in the U.S. luxury car market.

To get its message across, Accavitti promises the debut of the TLX will be backed by “the biggest marketing campaign in Acura history.”

It will also have a modest $30,995 base price – not including delivery charges – going for it.

There are plenty of skeptics who note that Acura was also boasting about the potential of the ILX and RLX models. While the MDX has delivered a winning hand it wasn’t enough to offset the rest of the brand’s problems. With sales of just 77,951 for the first half of 2014, Acura is well off the pace of last year, when it sold a total of 165,436 vehicles in the U.S. From January to June it sold less than half the volume of segment leader BMW, at 157,382 vehicles, and fell short of even Audi and Cadillac, the latter maker battling its own slump.

(Cadillac lures Infiniti boss Johan de Nysschen to Detroit as its new global brand chief. Click Here for the full story.)

While the TLX will get a lavish send-off, expect to see the maker shift attention later this year to another new offering, the reborn NSX supercar.  With its unique three-motor hybrid drive paired with a turbocharged V-6, Acura is betting NSX will be the halo car it also needs.

The supercar “will be a great image contributor,” says Accavitti, adding that it “will get consumers back singing the praises of Acura.

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