Acura’s Type S Trim, NSX Supercar Set the Brand’s Performance Bar
Jon Ikeda has spent most of his career as a designer before becoming CEO of Acura in 2015 and brand manager in 2019. He works to rebuild the high-end performance brand, bringing back his legacy and infusing enthusiasm while further differentiating Acura from the Honda brand. We chatted with him about plans for the Acura brand in general as he prepared to launch the 2021 Acura TLX.
MT: When did you start this last relaunch of the brand?
JI: Maybe in 2015. That’s when the NSX came online. And that’s when we completely shifted our focus to “precision performance,” our heritage. If we want to be a performance brand, we had to have the supercar as our halo… I’m not going to lie to you, we dawdled a bit and refocused. NSX has arrived, the race has been held, A-Specs, but the RDX was one of the first of the next generation of cars for us, proof to say, “Hey, we’re ready to show you what the new Acura look is all on. “
MT: The RDX has become more premium?
JI: We went more upscale. Our transaction prices have gone up, but we are still winning. We’re trying to create emotion again, to make cars fun to drive again. And it resonated well in the market. RDX has done well.
MT: What is TLX’s strategy?
MT: Other models in preparation?
JI: We have an MDX right behind [the TLX], and then it’s Type S. We are completely reorganizing everything. RDX has shown the way and given us confidence that we are on the right path.
MT: Does everything future models get an S type?
JI: This is the plan. The Type S is the sports derivative of our entire range. We need to focus on them. The fairness we want to put on the Type S is enormous. Yes, we want to put the Type S on everything, starting with the TLX. We have already discussed this on the MDX.
MT: Why give TLX its own dedicated platform?
JI: In the future, we’ll have to look at how we share things and the like, but for this vehicle it’s [new from the] on the ground. It’s its own thing.
MT: Can future products use the platform?
JI: Currently, it is not under discussion. As future products are reviewed, who knows? But for now, this chassis is specially designed for this vehicle. If we were to expand and do derivatives, there are possibilities.
MT: Can Acura share with Honda?
JI: I’m not [into] the big one, “Honda can’t have what Acura has,” sort of thing. I don’t think that’s how this brand started. We were just trying to make really cool, high performing products and it gets expensive. It’s the family. The whole thing, “They can’t have this” or “We can’t get that,” I don’t think it exists.
MT: Is TLX the new flagship?
JI: The flagship product remains the NSX. Traditionally, you would think that a flagship is a sedan, but that’s not how I think.
MT: Will you still be playing in the full-size sedan market?
JI: The RLX is stopped. So the TLX is the biggest sedan we have.
MT: Nothing larger expected?
JI: Currently not on the agenda.
MT: With the TLX growing, is there more room for ILX and something else?
JI: We must have an entrance [model] and there is space there. We will see how to fill it correctly. We have ILX and we have other things to come during the transition to cover this area.
MT: How do you manage to move Acura upmarket?
JI: We had a successful legacy. It is not so much about reinventing ourselves as it is about going back to our roots. If you look at our successes with Integras, Legends and NSX Gen-1, we were innovative, different, focused on our performance. This is what we are going to reorient ourselves on. Millennials in their early 40s were 10, 12 and looking at Integras and Type R. So they know Acura. What they fell in love with, we must deliver. When I see an NSX Gen-1 enthusiast get an RDX A-Spec, and get excited about it, it tells me we’re doing the right things.
MT: is a third-gen NSX in the works?
JI: We can’t talk about it.
MT: What are Acura’s electrification projects?
JI: When we first released an NSX Hybrid, not everyone was on board, including me. When the CEO said, “We’re going to do a hybrid,” I said, “What?” But developing this technology around the supercar has shown us what we can do with electric motors and batteries. Electrification is in progress.