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Acura boss says the brand needs to focus on performance first, EVs second

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Despite parent company Honda’s green and friendly brand image, luxury marque Acura hasn’t made a grand statement about electrifying their lineup. Even as brands like Jaguar, Land Rover, Bentley, and Infiniti pledge to entirely electrify their lineups in the coming decade, Acura has held back. The reason, according to Acura head honcho Jon Ikeda, is that it’s focusing on reestablishing itself as a performance brand.

In a wide-ranging interview with Automotive News, Ikeda says Acura came out of the gate strong in 1986 and did well for the first 20 years, but when the bottom fell out of the market in 2008 the brand experienced “growing pains.” That spawned a period of self-reflection and, as Ikeda puts it, “What are we about?” The decision was made to go back to Acura’s roots as the performance division of Honda. “That’s what Acura is. That’s what I fell in love with,” Ikeda says.

Ikeda joined Honda in 1989, but his promotion to Acura boss in 2015 was a surprise to many, including himself. That’s because Honda had a tradition of putting engineers at the helm, and Ikeda was a designer, responsible for the looks of such cars as the FSX concept, 2001 Civic Coupe, and beloved 2004 Acura TL.

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When asked by AN whether Acura is worried that luxury competitors are putting stakes in the ground to claim EV brand identities, Ikeda says no. “For us as a brand, we needed to kind of refocus and reestablish ourselves as a performance brand… We want everybody to understand where we are, what we’re about first. Even if we go electric we will continue to be a performance division of Honda and performance will be our focus.”

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To earn its performance street cred, Acura poured resources into the second-gen NSX hybrid supercar, which served as testbed for how electricity can work harmoniously with performance. They will continue to campaign IMSA race cars to earn trophies as proof, and Ikeda also wants to bring more Type S models to the lineup.

Ikeda says Acura is still in the process of rebuilding its foundation, but when he’s done he expects people to associate Acura with performance. That sure seems ambitious to us, but products like the new TLX are a helpful stepping stone. It also explains why Acura is investing in different platforms to differentiate itself from Honda.

To be clear, Ikeda isn’t ruling out electrification. However, as he reiterates many times, vehicle dynamics and performance will come first, and that’s what he wants Acura to be known for first and foremost.

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