Jon Ikeda spent most of his career as a designer before becoming Acura‘s general manager in 2015 and brand officer in 2019. He is working to rebuild the premium performance brand, bringing back its heritage and injecting excitement while further differentiating Acura from the Honda brand. We chatted with him about the plans for the Acura brand in general as he prepared to launch the 2021 Acura TLX.
MT: When did you start this latest relaunch of the brand?
JI: Maybe 2015. That’s when the NSX came online. And that’s when we were completely reorienting ourselves back to “precision crafted performance,” our heritage. If we’re going to be a performance brand, we needed to have the supercar as the halo…I’m not going to lie to you, we did wander around a little bit and we’ve refocused. NSX happened, racing happened, A-Specs, but the RDX was one of the first of the next generation of cars for us, a proof point to say, “Hey, we’re ready to show you what new-look Acura is all about.”
MT: The RDX became more premium?
JI: We went more upscale. Our transaction prices went up, but we’re still conquesting. We’re trying to build emotion again, make fun-to-drive cars again. And it resonated well in the market. RDX did well.
MT: What is the strategy for TLX?
MT: Other models in the works?
JI: We’ve got an MDX coming right behind [the TLX], and following that is the Type S. We’re completely revamping everything. The RDX has shown the way and given us confidence that we’ve chosen the right path.
MT: Will all future models get a Type S?
JI: That’s the plan. The Type S is the sports derivative of all of our lineup. We need to focus on them. The equity we want to put on Type S is huge. Yes, we want to put Type S on everything, starting with the TLX. We’ve already talked about it being on the MDX.
MT: Why give TLX its own dedicated platform?
JI: Going forward, we will have to look at how we share things and whatnot, but for this vehicle, it’s [new from the] ground up. It’s its own thing.
MT: Can future products use the platform?
JI: Currently, that’s not in discussion. As future products get vetted out, who knows? But right now, this chassis is specifically designed for this vehicle. If we were to expand and do derivatives, there’s possibilities.
MT: Can Acura share with Honda?
JI: I’m not [into] the big, “Honda can’t have what Acura has,” kind of thing. I don’t think that’s the way this brand started. We were just trying to do really cool, high-performance products and it gets expensive. It’s family. The whole, “They can’t have this,” or “We can’t get that,” I don’t think that exists.
MT: Is TLX the new flagship?
JI: The flagship is still the NSX. Traditionally, you would think a flagship is a sedan, but that’s not how I think about it.
MT: Will you still play in the full-size sedan market?
JI: The RLX is discontinued. So, the TLX is the biggest sedan we have.
MT: Nothing larger planned?
JI: Currently, not on the agenda.
MT: With the TLX getting bigger, is there more room for the ILX and something else?
JI: We have to have an entry [model] and there’s some space there. We’ll look at how to fill that correctly. We have the ILX and we have other things that are going to be coming as we transition to cover that area.
MT: How do you successfully move Acura upmarket?
JI: We had a successful heritage. It isn’t reinventing yourself so much as going back to our roots. If you look at our successes with Integras, Legends, and the Gen-1 NSXs, we were innovative, different, focused on our performance. That’s what we’ll reorient ourselves on. Millennials in their early 40s were 10, 12 years old looking at Integras and Type Rs. So, they know Acura. What they fell in love with, we need to deliver. When I see a Gen-1 NSX enthusiast get an RDX A-Spec, and is excited about it, that’s telling me we’re doing the right things.
MT: Is a third-gen NSX in the works?
JI: We can’t talk about that.
MT: What are Acura’s plans for electrification?
JI: When we first came out with a hybrid NSX, everybody wasn’t on board, including me. When the CEO said, “We’re going to do a hybrid,” I said, “What?” But developing that technology around the supercar has shown us what we could do with electric motors and batteries. Electrification is happening.