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Honda eyes reviving iconic NSX sports car as EV
Published on: Wednesday, September 21, 2022
By: Nikkei Asia, FMT
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Honda plans to end sales of the NSX by the end of the year. (FB pic/Acura)
TOKYO: With only a handful of special editions left in dealer showrooms, the Acura NSX from Honda Motor seems ready to drive off into the sunset. But we might not have seen the last of the iconic sports car.

When it was first introduced back in 1990, the Acura NSX served to demonstrate the technological prowess of Honda’s luxury Acura brand, a strategy repeated with the launch of an all-new NSX in 2016. Now, Acura planners are giving thought to how they might bring the premium sports car back to demonstrate the brand’s upcoming shift in direction.

While he declined to say whether a third-generation NSX is set to follow, “I would bet on it,” said vice president and Acura brand officer Jon Ikeda at American Honda Motor Co. And if it does, he said in an exclusive interview, “it’s going to be all-electric.”

Loosely based on the 1984 HP-X, the Honda Pininfarina eXperimental concept, the original NSX debuted as a 1990 model and was used to highlight such technological breakthroughs as the use of an all-aluminium body and chassis. It remained in production, with an ongoing series of tweaks, for the next 15 years.

After spending nearly a decade exploring ways to revive the iconic nameplate, Acura brought the NSX back in 2016, this time as a three-motor gas-electric hybrid. It was lightning fast, rocketing from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds, and used the unusual drivetrain’s Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system to give it the sort of handling that even Ferrari struggled to match.

But production recently wrapped up with the end of a limited-edition run of NSX Type-S models. And, at least officially, Acura says it has no plan to bring the sports car back.

No official plan, but company officials tell another story on background, noting that a third-generation NSX would be the perfect platform to highlight the brand’s shift from internal combustion to battery-electric propulsion.

While parent Honda was an early pioneer in electrification, the carmaker was long reluctant to embrace pure battery power, much like its bigger rival Toyota Motor.

To meet strict California emissions standards, Honda formed a joint venture with General Motors. That will see it bring two battery-electric vehicles to market in 2024: the Honda Prologue and Acura ZDX. But, since taking over as CEO in April 2021, global CEO Toshihiro Mibe has shifted gears.

Mibe plans to spend US$40 billion to have his company go fully electric by 2040, with 30 BEVs due by the end of this decade. The plan actually expands on Honda’s ties with GM – the two set to work up a series of low-priced, all-electric models by taking advantage of their joint economies of scale.

But Honda also is developing a BEV platform of its own. Dubbed the e:Architecture, it will provide the underpinnings for both mainstream Honda and highline Acura models. And that’s where a new NSX would come in, according to Ikeda.

It would fit its role as a halo nameplate and provide a clear indication of what the new battery-car platform is technically capable of.

Battery propulsion systems are, by nature, capable of delivering impressive performance, noted Ikeda, as electric motors deliver maximum torque the moment they start spinning.

And a number of automakers are putting that to good use already. Even mainstream models like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Volkswagen ID.4 can deliver sports car-level 0-60 (mph, or 0-96 kph) times, depending on their configuration.

Extreme machines, such as the Tesla Model S Plaid and Lucid Air Dream Performance edition, are turning in some of the fastest launches ever, at barely 2 seconds. And Croatia’s Rimac is hinting at a new model that could cut even that time in half.

But Ikeda cautioned that a new NSX wouldn’t simply deliver rocket-like speed. As with the second-generation hybrid model, the goal would be to demonstrate extreme levels of handling and other technological advantages.

“It won’t be just about straight lines,” he stressed.

The final decision on bringing back the NSX will likely be up to Mibe, Ikeda acknowledged, though the new CEO’s support for electric power appears to be a solid sign that a new sports car will follow.

The real question, Ikeda and other insiders said, is one of timing. While Acura will have Prologue, its first long-range battery-electric vehicle, in production in 2024, it will be a couple more years before its first model based on the e:Architecture platform is ready. And that, several said, would seem to be the perfect time to debut a new NSX.

Late to the BEV market, Acura could need a halo product to show it can truly compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus, as well as all-electric brands such as Tesla.

If Mibe gives the go-ahead, that could see formal development of a next-generation Acura NSX begin within the next year or two.