DETROIT – Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Acura luxury car division will be in a holding pattern here in the U.S. in 2007, but help is on the way.

The marque topped the 200,000-unit sales barrier for the second time in 2006, but deliveries totaling 201,223 represented a 4% shortfall from 2005’s record 209,610.

“It would have been worse, but we pulled it out at the end,” Richard Colliver, executive vice president-American Honda Motor Co. Inc., says of 2006, noting earlier in the year Acura sales trailed like-2005 by as much as 8%.

A year-end sales event, increased advertising and an enhanced leasing program all helped give Acura a strong finish, he says.

This year is likely to be flat, Colliver tells Ward’s here at the North American International Auto Show.

“I’ve been in this business 45 years, and this is the toughest I’ve seen it,” he says. “We’re just going to try to hold our ground (this year) until new products arrive.”

Help is on the way in the form of a new TSX that will bow in the U.S. in spring 2008, and a new TL will roll out that fall, Colliver says.

The next-generation NSX sports car, unveiled here in concept form as the Advanced Sports Car Concept, is expected to hit the market in the ’09 model year. The car will be shown in production form for the first time at the Tokyo Motor Show this fall, Honda President and CEO Takeo Fukui says.

The ASCC is fitted with Honda’s new V-10, mounted up front, and a new rear-drive version of Honda’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system. SH-AWD currently is available only on the RL, RDX and MDX, all based on front-drive platforms.

The concept car, which features Acura’s new “Keen Edge Dynamic” styling theme, with its long hood and chiseled lines, also will influence the design of the upcoming new TSX and TL, the auto maker says.

Meanwhile, Colliver says Acura is looking at what to do at the top of the lineup, once its current RL sedan runs its course. Sales for the front-drive, V-6-equipped flagship fell 34.5% in 2006 to 11,501 units.

“We know we have to have a different concept,” Colliver says when asked if a rear-drive, V-8-powered model is in the cards. “We’re studying what to do.”

Fukui won’t say whether a rear-drive sedan is under study. But he says developing a V-8 would not be a big technical hurdle for the auto maker now that it has the V-10 in the works.

“For now, it is just the V-10,” he says. “There is no V-8. But obviously, we could do one. Technology is not the issue. (And) I realize Americans like V-8s.”

However, the platform for the NSX could not be used for a new luxury sedan, Fukui says. “This is a 100% dedicated platform,” he says.

Shorter term, the RL will get a minor facelift for ’09, Colliver says, adding he thinks Acura can continue to sell 10,000 of the sedans in the U.S. annually until new product arrives.

The ASCC was designed in the U.S., where Acura is stepping up its design capability with a new center in Torrance, CA, expected to be operational in the next few months.

North America is playing an increasing role at Acura, Fukui says. In addition to taking much of the design lead, North American-built Acuras are being exported to China, he notes.

Last year, Honda began shipping the Acura TL there, and this year U.S.-built MDXs will be exported to China, he says.