Honda (HMC) - Get Reporttook the wraps off its latest U.S. factory, a small plant in Marysville, Ohio, intended as a showplace for manufacturing the Acura NSX supercar, which goes on sale in a month or so.
Honda, the first Japanese automaker to build cars in the U.S. in 1982, is trying to revitalize its Acura luxury brand with the latest generation of NSX. The first NSX, a low-slung two-seater meant to compete with Ferrari and Porsche models, was introduced in 1990 and discontinued in 2005.
Journalists have been touring Acura's Performance Manufacturing Center, though Honda has embargoed details of the assembly process until March 17. The factory is likely to be open to prospective NSX customers and perhaps the public, much like European factories owned by Ferrari and Porsche that operate tours. The facility is located near Honda's existing factories and research center, about 40 miles from Columbus, Ohio.
"All the details of when and how we will allow non-Honda personnel into the plant haven't been decided," said Sage Marie, a Honda spokesman. "We are bringing attention to our elite brand and the top vehicle in its model line."
Honda, which was the first Japanese automaker to introduce a luxury automobile in the U.S. with its Legend sedan in 1986, has been frustrated in its quest to elevate Acura to the same prestige and desirability as Lexus, Audi and other elite brands. Last July, Honda replaced Mike Accavitti, a former Cisco Systems and Chrysler marketer, as head of the brand with Jon Ikeda, a Honda designer.
The automaker's recently promoted CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, last week announced a broad shakeup of top global management aimed at improving quality and energizing the automaker in the wake of massive recalls of its vehicles due to faulty airbags made by Takata.
With higher prestige and stronger demand from wealthier consumers, automakers are able to charge more for luxury-branded vehicles and realize higher profit margins than for mainstream brands. General Motors (GM) - Get Report is in the midst of revitalizing its Cadillac brand in an effort to improve the division's financial results.
Year-to-date sales of Acura models in the U.S. are down 7.8%, though roughly equal to Audi, which are up 2.5%. The U.S. new-vehicle market is up 3.4% through March 1.
Honda likely is modeling its effort to upgrade Acura on European luxury brands like Volkswagen's (VLKAY) Porsche brand, which has built an extremely classy plant in Leipzig, Germany, that features glass, wood, high-end lighting and other features usually found in showrooms rather than in factories. Porsche customers can watch the assembly of the brand's Cayenne, Macan and Panamera models, as well as visit test tracks oriented toward driving instruction, complete with restaurants where gourmet meals are served.
But Honda, which is known more for the utilitarian nature of its products and the egalitarian spirit of its workforce, may find the elitist nature of German luxury brands challenging to emulate.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.