Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – American Honda Motor Co. Inc.’s Acura luxury division debuts its new TSX, an all-new entry-level premium sedan designed to win the hearts and minds of buyers, particularly young professionals.

But the task won’t be easy, not with two longtime favorites of the affluent younger set – the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the BMW 3-Series – standing in the way.

“It’s hard,” Richard Colliver, American Honda executive vice president-automobile sales, tells Ward’s, referring to efforts to break through the Mercedes-BMW barrier, not to mention the challenges posed by Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.’s Lexus luxury division.

“And it is not going to happen overnight,” he says.

The introduction of the ’09 TSX at the auto show here is the latest offering in what Colliver refers to as a “major initiative” to put Acura on more buyers’ lists, freshen the division’s product lineup and “improve the brand image.”

That effort began this year with the introduction at the Chicago auto show of the freshened top-of-the-line Acura RL sedan. Planned later this year is a debut of a new TL. “This is the year of the sedan,” he says.

But upcoming vehicles that really will “make a difference” are planned for 2009 introductions and beyond, Colliver says, referring to a 5-year plan but declining to get into specifics.

The TSX is a significant vehicle for Acura because the entry-level luxury segment is expected to grow 7% by 2012, he says. “There is real opportunity for those with good product.”

Meanwhile, Colliver says selling cars in a weakening economy is tough.

“You don’t know what rock is going to fall next,” he says. “We thought we worked our way through the subprime crisis, and now Wall Street is in trouble.

“If you lose $200,000 in the stock market or if the price of your home drops significantly, it affects consumer confidence.”

But, he adds, “there will always be people who buy cars.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com