Among car shoppers, "there is a bit of questioning as to where (Acura's) exact competition lives," Drury says.
Acura's new models should improve its sales, but the initial ones have been smaller, lower-price vehicles unlikely to burnish the high-end image that lets a brand command high prices and premium profits.
Here is the key new hardware:
RDX. The latest version of the compact, five-seat crossover SUV, starting at about $35,000, is intended to hit what the first version missed.
"The original RDX was targeted where we thought the market was going to go," Accavitti says. "But we found it was biased toward people who wanted more comfort" than the edgy, turbocharged four-cylinder original RDX provided.
The 2013, as a result, is slightly bigger, outside and in, is powered by a smoother V-6 and is tailored for a smooth ride.
Bull's-eye: It went on sale April 2, and in May, snuggled up behind the MDX to become Acura's No. 2 seller, displacing the TL and TSX sedans. RDX's May sales more than tripled those of its predecessor a year ago.
ILX. A recasting of the Honda Civic, it's new to the Acura line and just went on sale as the entry-level Acura, starting at about $27,000.
Only a few were sold last month because only a few were in stock.
The brand sees this lowest-price model as a "gateway" car to bring new buyers into Acura showrooms. "A lot of people are going that (lower-price) route," Nerad says, so ILX could drive up sales volume important to the Acura dealerships.
Industry watchers are of two minds about ILX:
One view is that it's a return to the nimble, small-car roots of the brand's original Integra, making it a smart move and a likely sales success.
The other view is that it's too much like the Civic on which it's based, and the similarity is too well known to wow luxury-brand buyers.
"You'll see a lot of comparisons to both the Integra and the Civic," Drury says.
RLX. A concept car unveiled at the New York auto show in April, it's a harbinger of the sedan that will replace the brand's aging flagship RL early next year.
RL, priced at about $49,000 to $57,000, is almost a nonentity, its sales down to a few dozen a month. Partly that's deliberate as Acura avoids overstock it would have to discount as the new one arrives.
The RL is an excellent symbol of Acura's struggle, Nerad says. Though it's the brand's top sedan, Acura's "resisted doing a V-8 engine, saying 'Oh, a V-6 can do it.' That's probably true, but it's not luxury." All other luxury brands offer V-8s.
The RLX concept, believed close to the showroom version, also eschews a V-8.
The top model will have a gas-electric hybrid system using a V-6 engine and three electric motors for an all-wheel-drive car that Acura says will be rated at least 370 horsepower and -- just as important in Acura's mind -- get a rating of 30 miles per gallon in every driving mode.
A conventional 310-hp V-6, front-drive model of the redone flagship also will be available.
NSX. Unveiled in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the high-performance sports car is to have a hybrid all-wheel-drive system similar to that in the RLX and was promised "within three years."
It revives, thematically if not literally, a model built from 1990 through 2005, but this time it will be developed and manufactured in Ohio instead of Japan.
Other Japanese premium brands also are rethinking their identities and places in the luxury market in the face of strong gains by European upscale brands.
Lexus, Toyota's high-end brand, is trying to reinvent itself as more like BMW, recasting each new car model to be crisper-handling, quicker and sportier-looking.
The 2013 GS 350 sedan, on sale since February, is the first, and is selling five to six times as fast as its predecessor.
Infiniti, Nissan's high-end brand known for edgy styling and rear-drive performance, is going a different direction. It just launched the 2013 JX 35, a big crossover SUV based on front-drive hardware more like what's in Nissan products than in any other Infiniti.
The JX rolled out in March, and in April, its first full month, did what Infiniti forecast: It became the brand's second-best-selling model, after the G entry-model sedans. Same in May.
Acura, though, has a unique issue related to its Honda roots that may limit its flexibility in seeking a more distinct identity.
Say Nerad: "Acura is a product of, and in some ways a victim of, how Honda goes about doing business -- an engineering company that's all about efficiency. Luxury isn't about efficiency."
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