A sodium pentothal-loaded needle might be nice every now and again when auto executives lend predictions; that or a crystal ball, and here’s why.
Some months ago, Acura hosted a press drive for its now-available ILX entry-level luxury sedan. At the time, Acura vice president Jeff Conrad was more than confident about the car’s future sales. So confident, in fact, that he projected the ILX and RDX would boost brand sales 45 percent. Travel six months into its lifespan and there’s less reason to be optimistic. Not surprisingly, Acura isn’t ready to concede.
“Customers are learning about ILX through our marketing efforts and by the good work of the Acura dealers as they help us spread the word about the sporty package the ILX offers buyers. As awareness builds, we expect sales to grow as well,” Acura spokesman Chuck Shifsky said.
Momentum, he said, is building for the car. Acura shipped 7,658 units from the point in May when sales kicked off through October – an off month for the industry as a whole. The car saw fewer than 1,000 takes in the first month, but that grew to around 1,700 units at the car’s peak in August and September. Last month, sales dipped slightly — to around 1,500.
To be fair, the ILX doesn’t reflect brand sales overall. In fact, sales have been climbing for Acura (up 27.6% year to date), buoyed buy unexpectedly high demand for the RDX. Initially, Acura predicted the two cars would account for 55,000 unit sales with 15,000 expected of the crossover. That’s hardly been the case with Acura reporting 82.7 percent increased RDX sales over last year and with two months left to go in 2012, volume has already reached 22,460 units.
Those strong numbers are helping to shore-up Acura’s overall growth targets, with the ILX meant to ship 40,000 units within the first 12 months. Shifsky didn’t specifically say the ILX wasn’t on track to meet that figure, but he didn’t confirm it either.
Slim Chance to Meet Expected Sales
While it’s possible that the brand will move another 32,342 units, the numbers make those chances seem dim.
If customers continue to respond as they have through the first six months of sales, Acura will be lucky to end up with half its original projection. In fact, the ILX will need to more than triple its current volume just to approach that goal.
So what’s holding the car back? Surely an entry-level luxury car aimed at young buyers and backed by a brand known for reliability would be an easy sell, wouldn’t it?
Not necessarily, according to industry analyst Dave Sullivan. He said that roughly 80 percent of luxury sales are aimed at cars sized like the RDX, TL and TSX.
“The volume wasn’t there to begin with,” he said. “Acura is struggling with an identity crisis and has almost turned into a ‘tweener’ brand like Chrysler and Buick. It isn’t a true luxury brand in many eyes but is far nicer than most Honda models.”
It’s a criticism Acura executives have admitted to this year, conceding that the buck tooth front end might be a little too much for some buyers. Furthermore, the brand’s new line isn’t a push to compete with Lexus and German luxury brands. Instead it aims, as Sullivan said, one rung lower on the luxury ladder.
Buick Verano Beats the ILX… But Why?
But even if the banter about new segments and growing momentum is true, there’s a similarly sized, priced and marketed car consistently besting monthly ILX sales.
The Buick Verano — a youthful injection into a brand known for its cars targeted at the sunset segment — is consistently outdoing the ILX. Last month it sold just over 3,500 cars, which is more than double its Acura counterpart.
Then again, calling it a counterpart might not be entirely fair. They’re priced the same and target similar markets, Shifsky insists that the two aren’t being cross-shopped, and Sullivan agrees.
Even still, it’s difficult not to wonder where the cars differ when one is doing so much better than the other. Buick communications manager Nick Richards couldn’t comment on sales targets for the Verano, but he did hint at where the brand plans to take the car.
“It will be in the top three per annual Buick sales,” he said. “Each month it bounces around between the Lacrosse, Verano and Enclave as to which is the volume leader for the month.”
It’s a sentiment Sullivan sniffed clean out and one that probably explains the different in sales between the two cars. Buick is making a hard push to reinvent itself as its old customer base stops buying cars. Simply put, the Verano must succeed.
As the brand makes a power play through the field, Acura seems content to meander slowly and sniff the flowers. That’s because the brand doesn’t have nearly as much pressure to sell. Based on the same platform as the Civic, the ILX won’t threaten to cause an accordion effect on Honda production.
If the originally projected 40,000 units turn up late for the party, Sullivan guesses Honda can easily sidestep the issue by shifting to produce more Civics.