NEW YORK – Acura has a new buyer in mind for the RL sedan and it hopes the change in direction helps the company more than double sales of the vehicle.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc. showed off an all-wheel-drive concept version of the luxury sedan here that looks much like the next-generation RL that will be built in Japan and is slated for sale in the ’05 model year, says Richard Colliver, executive vice president-sales and marketing. (See related story: Honda RL Prototype Features Industry-First AWD System)

Honda will price the vehicle below $50,000 and aim it squarely at the mid-luxury sedan market, which includes the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS and Audi A6. The move has Acura abandoning the upper-luxury sedan segment in the U.S. that RL competed in when it was launched here.

The RL introduction will cap a 2004 sales year that Colliver expects to be a record campaign for Honda’s luxury division at 186,000 units, up from 170,918 in 2003 and 165,552 in 2002.

“I think (200,000) will come probably in the next two to three years,” he says.

While Acura sales sizzle in the U.S., the RL does nothing to fuel the momentum.

Last year, Honda sold 6,829 RLs, down 27% from 9,392 in 2002. Colliver says Honda anticipates RL sales to soar between 12,000-15,000 units in 2005, further pushing Acura’s sales toward the 200,000 mark. If demand should exceed 15,000, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. has the capacity to export more RLs to the U.S.

Acura RL concept

“The RL today was designed for a different market, for an older buyer,” Colliver says, estimating the next-generation RL buyer’s average age will be 50 years old.

The current RL has skirted the nebulous line between mid- and fullsize sedan, which has all but deteriorated in recent years as luxury makers move to longer wheelbases on their upper sedans and V-8 engines as a base powertrain. The next RL differs from that field as it will have a sports sedan stance and a 3.5L V-6, a spokesman says.

Colliver points to a newly developed all-wheel-drive system and a redeveloped version of Honda’s widely-used V-6 that gets 300 hp as drivers for an RL sales boom.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com