Honda Tries To Race Ahead With Its New Acura NSX Hybrid

Mar 25, 2016
Originally published on March 25, 2016 8:17 pm

Very few companies make "supercars" that can rocket you from zero to 60 mph in a blink and then propel you to nearly 200 mph.

Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bugatti — and of course, Honda.

Honda?

Yes. In Marysville, Ohio, where Honda cranks out safe, family-friendly Accords, workers are building a new supercar under the brand name of Acura NSX. The company designed a first-generation NSX in the late 1980s, but that model, built in Japan, didn't generate much enthusiasm. Honda killed it off in 2005.

Now, the next-generation, American-made NSX will be released in late April. With a base price of roughly $160,000, the hybrid sports car — with two seats and three electric motors and a V-6 engine — will be the most expensive car built in the United States by a major manufacturer.

"You have instant acceleration from the time you hit the gas pedal," says Clement D'Souza, chief engineer of the NSX project at the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center. "The engine kicks in and the turbo backs it up, so you're thrown in the back of your seat."

D'Souza's team is building the NSX in a new, 184,000-square-foot plant in Marysville, 45 miles northwest of Columbus. Honda has been manufacturing Accords in other facilities in that area since 1982.

Honda's goal with the new NSX is to build a "halo" car — one that shines so brightly it creates a glow around all Acura models.

"It will definitely help the brand," D'Souza said. "The technology in the supercar can be cascaded down to the rest of the Acura brand."

Eric Lyman, an automotive analyst with TrueCar.com, agrees that Honda needs to build a superfast car to generate buzz. "The luxury market has gone more towards performance in the last decade or so," he said. "Acura has missed out on that."

James Gillette, an independent automotive analyst in Michigan, agrees that Honda had to do something fairly dramatic to attract big spenders in a globalized market.

"People have migrated to the German cars more in terms of excitement. So I think that there clearly needs to be a move now on the part of Honda," Gillette said.

With Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren building high-performance hybrids too, Honda will face fierce competition, he said. But because of its extensive use of robotics and other advanced technologies, Honda will have a huge price advantage for its Acura supercar.

High-performance supercars can have insane sticker prices. A Ferrari LaFerrari may start at $1.4 million. A Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse could be twice that price.

So with its relatively low cost, Acura won't have to rely only upon the richest of the rich for sales. It will be able to attract customers who are mere multimillionaires.

"You're going to see a lot of people in the marketplace at the lower prices that may dream about a [Porsche] 918 or a LaFerrari but are going to be just as happy, if not happier, with the NSX," Gillette said.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Ever dream of owning a supercar like a Honda? The company's trying to change its image by rolling out the new Acura NSX, the most expensive car being built by a major manufacturer in the U.S. From member station WOSU in Columbus, Mandie Trimble checks it out.

MANDIE TRIMBLE, BYLINE: The Honda Performance Manufacturing Center is a new 184,000 square foot plant built in Marysville, Ohio, 45 miles northwest of Columbus. Honda already has a huge presence here, mass-producing safe, family-friendly Accords. But this is something different. Here, mechanics are using electric wrenches to help install an engine into a low, sleek body of a two-seat sports car. The hybrid will be marketed as the Acura NSX and it'll make its public debut in late April. Clement D'Souza is the project's chief engineer.

CLEMENT D'SOUZA: You have three motors, a V6 six engine and a 9DCT transmission.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

TRIMBLE: In other words, a whole lot of power. The Acura NSX can go from zero to 60 in three seconds.

D'SOUZA: You have instant acceleration from the time you hit the gas pedal. The engine kicks in and the turbo backs it up so you're thrown in the back of your seat.

TRIMBLE: That's the thrill of a supercar, which can leave a Tesla in the dust. Wealthy customers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars - millions even, for an exotic ride few others own. But at about $160,000, the Acura NSX is cheap compared with the supercars made in other countries.

D'SOUZA: It's all this technology that you're adding to the car that brings it in that range, the same technology you'll see in a LaFerrari or a 918.

JIM GILLETTE: The only downside that I would say that's potential is the proliferation of competing vehicles in the marketplace right now.

TRIMBLE: Jim Gillette is an independent automotive analyst in Michigan. With names like Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren building hybrids too, Honda will face fierce competition. But, then again, it's got that big price advantage.

GILLETTE: You're going to see a lot of people in the marketplace at the lower prices that may dream about a 918 or a LaFerrari but are going to be just as happy if not happier with the NSX.

TRIMBLE: The biggest problem may be Honda's image. Gillette says Japanese cars are known for dependability, not high-performance. The first-generation NSX designed in the late 1980s didn't create much enthusiasm and Honda killed it off in 2005.

GILLETTE: People have migrated to the German cars more in terms of excitement so I think that there clearly needs to be a move now on the part of Honda.

TRIMBLE: Analyst Eric Lyman with truecar.com agrees.

ERIC LYMAN: As the luxury market has gone more towards performance in the last decade or so, Acura's missed out on that.

TRIMBLE: Honda's D'Souza says NSX's goal is to become a superstar, shining so brightly it acts like a halo.

D'SOUZA: It will definitely help the brand. The technology in the supercar can be cascaded down to the rest of the Acura brand.

TRIMBLE: Honda is hoping the hype will get people talking about Acura and then visiting dealerships. For NPR News, I'm Mandie Trimble in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.