Acura touts performance with RSX

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Goodbye, Integra. Hello, RSX.

Integra, which bowed with American Honda Motor Co.'s debut of its upscale Acura brand in 1986, drives into the sunset at the end of the current model year. Its successor is the RSX sports coupe, which has more horsepower and an all-new aluminum engine.

Acura breaks a TV teaser ad campaign today for the RSX on select national cable networks and spot TV. The trio of :15s will air for two weeks before the launch ads arrive July 2. Independent agency Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, handles both the Honda and Acura brands.

In the commercials, no one but the TV viewers sees the teaser info about the car. In one spot, a dozing security guard misses the fast-moving shots of the RSX's steering wheel and gearshift, as the sound of the engine shifting gears wails in the background, and the car's name, Acura and 7-2-01 flash on various security cameras. When he awakens, the cameras are back to the deserted areas he's supposed to be protecting.

"It's real obvious from the spots that this car is very performance-oriented. That's the way Acura has repositioned itself," said Rob Alen, divisional ad manager at the automaker, who added that the teaser campaign will help seed the new car's name. The dropping of the Integra nameplate completes the brand's move to all alphanumeric car names that started in 1993 when the flagship Legend name disappeared.

The RSX will get the biggest ad push among Acura models in 2001, an estimated $50 million. Of the $201 million Acura spent last year in measured media, Integra received $10 million, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

The RSX target is slightly different from that of the Integra, whose average owner is 29 years old. Acura is aiming for an average age of 27 with the RSX, but with annual household income of $60,000, a bit higher than Integra's. Acura, however, expects the RSX to appeal to male drivers as its predecessor did, and expects to sell 30,000 units in the model's first full year of sales, 2002.

"If they say 30,000, I'd say they'll sell 40,000, because Honda is world-famous for understatement," said Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of consultantcy and auto testing firm AMCI.

"Integra was the first iteration of an affordable, performance coupe that was very youthful, a factory-boy racer. Integra was the vehicle of choice for the original `tuners' who started the whole wave" of young men customizing their cars, stated Mr. Sanfilippo.

In total, Acura hopes to sell 170,000 vehicles this year. Through May, it sold 69,449 units vs. 55,145 in the same period a year ago, according to Automotive News. Integra sales fell to 9,001 units vs. 11,723 a year ago.

But Mr. Sanfilippo said lower Integra sales are expected since the car is being phased out. He said Acura's brand image is much clearer than it was two years ago, thanks to new vehicles like the TL sedan and MDX sport utility.

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