Acura Going AWD To Compete With Subaru and Audi?

CIAS 2013 - 2014 Acura RLX
MSVG / Foter / CC BY

According to a report by Automotive News, Acura is looking to make AWD standard on all their models and go the route of Subaru and Audi. But is it too late for the Honda-owned luxury car manufacturer?

While going AWD creates benefits for the consumer, Acura has to distinguish themselves from Subaru and Audi first. What is the Acura brand? Who are they marketing to, and are they a luxury car company, or more similar to Subaru who market to consumers that need AWD to deal with snow and difficult terrain?
Subaru has already built up a strong tradition of manufacturing durable and long lasting AWD sedans and station wagons, and their Impreza and Legacy are in a league of their own that’s very difficult to break through and compete.

Audi on the other hand is pure luxury that offers AWD as standard, but their cars are predicated on luxury more than off-road capability. Their sedans and smaller crossovers are competing against BMW and Mercedes Benz, and it would be a mistake for Acura to jump into the fray and compete against the best the automotive world has to offer.

Acura needs to change their image, or promote the brand that displays a definte direction so consumers know exactly what they’re buying. Introducing a crossover SUV wouldn’t be a bad place to start, and then figure out where their sedans compete in the automotive market. 

AWD is the right answer, but to the wrong question. Consumers don’t know where Acura fits in the luxury market, and they have no idea whether it’s a luxury brand or not, especially with the changes they’ve made to their lineup by getting rid of the TL and TSX. Acura has a lot of questions to answer and evaluate where their brand stands among its competitors, but when it comes to standardizing AWD on all their models, they’re on the right track.

Is Luxury Taking On A Whole New Meaning In The Automotive World?

If someone walked up to you fifteen years ago and said that Subaru, Honda, Mazda, and Toyota were making four door sedans that rivaled the Germans, would you believe them? Or better yet, if that same person told you Audi, Mercedes Benz, and BMW were offering smaller vehicles with starting prices near $30,000, would you think they were joking? The reality is, in the year 2014 the Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord and Civic, Mazda 6, and Toyota Camry and Avalon are all on par with German luxury vehicles, but for a fraction of the cost. While the big three German auto manufacturers are entering the cheaper luxury markets, the Japanese and even the Americans are meeting them with top notch vehicles that might make you question your bias towards a certain car brand.

The fact that any car can have an LCD monitor, leather seats, a spacious interior, and great fuel economy, really begs the question on whether it’s worth spending $10,000 – $20,000 more to get the same package and luxury you’d find on what used to be inferior car brands. For many, the dream of owning a Mercedes Benz or BMW will never go away, but when we were kids, who could have foreseen a Honda, Toyota, Mazda, or Subaru with a luxurious interior? What was once exclusive to those who were affluent, can now be found on most cars that were seen as average. Luxury really has taken on a whole new meaning, but it doesn’t stop there. Performance is also another feature that can be found on four door sedans that were 15 years ago, a family oriented vehicle.

You can own a Subaru Legacy with a 265 horsepower V6 engine for around $32,000, almost $8,000 less than the Audi A4 that has a turbocharged four cylinder engine with 220 horsepower. I must ask the question again, is it worth spending the extra $8,000 on an Audi when you can own a Subaru with the same comforts and styling? The Chrysler 200 has a V6 option which supplies a whopping 295 hp, completely blowing away any of the Japanese or German four door sedans in the price range of $30,000 – $35,000.

But at the end of the day, all the driver really wants is reliability with a combination of some form of luxury, and Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Toyota can offer that. These brands speak for themselves as they’ve been known for reliability for years, but now that they’ve put in nicer interiors, leather seats, and performance for competitive prices, it’s hard to see why you’d pay extra for a car that offers the same. The only major difference is the badge on the front of the car and the recognition that brand has that catches the eyes of bystanders.

Heading into 2015, the consumer is going to have a boatload of options in the four door luxury sedan market in the $30,000 – $35,000 price range. Luxury is what you make it; the auto manufacturers are just making cars that help steer you into their direction. Owning an Audi, Mercedes, or BMW is a major feat, but when you see cheaper options that may offer more, it’s hard to say no.

Auto Marketing: Are Car Manufacturers Becoming Too Much Alike?

Let’s go back in time for a minute to the late 1990’s to early 2000’s in the automotive world. What has changed since those days? Are consumers more confused now than ever? Are car manufacturers becoming too much the same, losing that individuality and no longer catering to the loyal customers they’ve had for probably generations? These are the questions that no one is asking, and in an industry that is constantly changing, why have blurred lines appeared where consumers can’t decide on what the better brand is, and instead just go along with tradition?

In the late 90’s if you wanted luxury you probably would buy a Mercedes Benz, BMW, or Cadillac. For the average family vehicle that was reliable and safe you’d go with the Honda, Toyota, Subaru, or Volvo. The young and dangerous teenager who wants speed would maybe look at a Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, or Pontiac Firebird. And for the person that wanted a pickup truck, Dodge, Chevy, GMC, and Ford were constantly advertising on TV to appeal to that specific person.

However, today there is such a variety of vehicles in the same price range that often get forgotten, not because they’re of poor quality, but they’re neither marketed correctly nor presented as an individual car manufacturer that stands out from the competition. For example, the average consumer who has no loyal ties to one specific brand will look in multiple categories such as, fuel economy, safety, performance and price. Yet most likely, they’ll only compare the car brands and models that are most prevalent in their lives that have been marketed to them constantly over the years.

As I wrote in a previous article, the 2015 Chrysler 200 is priced from $21,000 to $31,000, putting it in the same price range as the Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic and Accord, the Mazda 6 and the list could continue on for a while. What the average consumer who wants performance while still owning a four door sedan doesn’t realize is that the 200 comes with a V6 engine that supplies 295 horsepower, completely blowing away the competition in it’s class in performance. Any one of the cars listed are also subjected to the same reality that poor marketing and a person’s personal preference completely drives their buying habits.

Let’s take a look at the new crossover SUV market that is constantly growing that includes the BMW X1 and the all new Audi Q3. Besides looking good, and for BMW and Audi the brand recognition, what do they really have to offer that other manufacturers can’t? Because luxury brands are now entering markets that are now rivaling Ford, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Mazda, consumers will now look to just the luxury brands and skip over what the traditional brands in that price range offer.

What used to be a black and white market has now become an array of colors, and while that is great news for the consumer, the manufacturers may end up losing in the end. If the consumer wants a small compact sedan, they’re going to be attracted to the Audi A3 or Mercedes Benz CLA without looking at what the other auto brands have to offer. The sports car market has remained the same over the years, as there is still a price margin wide enough where younger consumers will look to the American muscle cars over the BMW 2 series and others in that category.

The auto market has certainly become competitive, but along with it is the loss of individuality. Most have LED lights, leather seats, MP3 capability, power windows, keyless entry, and other technologies and comforts that were only found on the most luxurious of brands in the late 90’s. There needs to be better marketing strategies from auto manufacturers, whether that be target advertising, or mass marketing that reaches a variety of different people. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz will be catering to a whole new audience; the audience that once bought Hondas, Toyotas, Volkswagens and Fords. TV commercials aren’t enough anymore as brand recognition is enough for consumers to get fixated on one manufacturer.

Right now there are multiple options at all different price ranges, but the consumer doesn’t know it. These auto manufacturers need to become unique again and cater to the specific audience they knew would buy their brand for many years to come. For the time being, the German luxury car segment is taking over, and if the other manufactures don’t step up their game, they’ll be in a for a rude awakening if and when Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz introduce the smaller vehicles they’ve been selling in Europe.