DETROIT - The new luxury, high-performance model that
the American Honda Motor Co. will introduce later this month is
likely to r aise the eyebrows of current Honda owners used to more
Spartan cars. It comes with a high-tech 151-horsepower V-6 engine, a
racing style suspension, plush interior and a sticker price close to
$20,000. It is not even called a Honda.
The company's new Acura line - which centers on the
top-of-the-line V-6 Legend but will also include the smaller
four-cylinder Integra - is the strongest indication yet that the
Japanese auto makers are determined to push into the highly
profitable and growing American market for luxury performance cars.
With the Acura, a new 200-horsepower Toyota Supra, Mazda's RX-7 Turbo
and Nissan's 300 ZX,the Japanese are going after the market now
dominated by such European manufacturers as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi,
Porsche and Saab.^ @The few American entries in this category include
the Chevrolet Corvette and Lincoln Mark 7 LSC, although others are
""The Legend is a legitimate competitor for BMW,'' said Ann C.
Knight, an auto industry analyst with Paine Webber Inc. ""The
question is whether they can break through the cult-like loyalty to
the German products. They probably can't do it on price. The more
Mercedes-Benz charges, the more people seem to like it.''
Honda officials acknowledge that the need to create the proper
image for the cars was a major factor in their decision to establish
a new division and a separate franchise to market the new
models.Acura dealerships - 60 to begin with - are free-standing
operations unrelated to other Honda outlets, although there is some
common ownership. The goal is to break away from Honda's reputation
for utilitarian, but not very exciting, automobiles.
""Customers in upscale market segments do not include current
Honda products in their purchase considerations,'' the company said,
because of its ""reputation for low-priced, high-fuel economy cars.''
But with the Acura, Honda hopes to change that thinking. It expects
to sell 50,000 Acura models this year, and is projecting sales in the
hundreds of thousands by the end of the decade.
Other Japanese companies are watching the Acura experiment
closely. Officials of the Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's leading auto
maker, have said they might introduce a new brand name in the United
States if Honda was successful.
Selling different lines of cars through separate distribution
networks is common in Japan, and is what the General Motors Corp. …