GUANGZHOU, China — Honda's struggling Acura premium brand has always been a made-for-America enterprise, but its best hope for growth may now rest half a world away in China.
Acura is finally getting serious about international expansion with an eye to the world's biggest auto market. And if it gains traction here, it could help the brand stateside as well.
Better sales in China could persuade executives at the home office in Japan to channel more r&d resources into the brand and free capacity in the U.S. to increase output.
Acura's presence in China still is tiny: It sold fewer than 10,000 cars last year. But Acura's global footprint is so paltry, even that trickle makes China the brand's third biggest market worldwide, behind the U.S. and Canada. And it is quickly on pace to challenge Canada as No. 2.
Yasuhide Mizuno, COO of Honda's China business, said Acura is pumping up its lineup to take a bigger piece of Chinese sales. The company is rolling out dedicated products geared to the local market, and it is ramping up local production to sidestep import tariffs.
The strategy mirrors that of other second-tier luxury makers, including Infiniti, Cadillac and Volvo, which are trying to revive their global fortunes by riding China's rapidly rising tide.
Infiniti introduced the ESQ, a Nissan Juke-based subcompact crossover for China that it doesn't sell in other markets. At the same time, Infiniti responded to Chinese demand for long-wheelbase vehicles by developing an extended version of its QX50 crossover. That version, when brought to the U.S., turned out to be a surprise hit with Americans, too, boosting sales of the longtime laggard.
"In the future, if we can increase Acura sales in China, I hope it will be of some help to the U.S. in enhancing development efficiency," Mizuno said during a visit to Honda's China r&d center here.