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Honda's NSX back on track

2011-02-08 07:20

THE RETURN: How the world has missed this sharp-nosed performance car. Honda’s board has finally seen the light of day and reinvested in making the second-generation NSX a reality.

The last three years have been a particularly unhappy time for fans of Honda’s considerable performance heritage.

Towards the end of 2008 Honda retired from F1, just as its engineering vision was coming into focus with the RA108.

By the end of 2009 the company’s motorsport executives watched with begrudging amazement as Brawn GP took both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World championships, in a car that was essentially a slightly tweaked Honda RA108

Similarly, the company’s road car division saw the retirement of its fabled S2000 in 2009 (without a replacement) and development of Honda’s second-generation NSX mid-engined sports car was cancelled in 2008 due to weakening demand courtesy of the global financial crisis.

BACK ON TRACK

For a company that dominated F1 during the late 1980's, and with a nearly unparalleled motorcycle circuit-racing pedigree, the hottest product in Honda’s current product portfolio is the Type R Civic hot hatch (which has already been discontinued in Europe) and its CR-Z hybrid sibling. For VTEC fans the world over, Honda’s product planning has gone badly awry.

Last Friday an announcement was made by Honda’s CEO, Takanobu Ito, which should give fans of the Japanese brand some hope for the future. Ito admitted that Honda’s board had decided to release company resources to enable a restart (and, let's hope, completion) of the NSX project.

"I feel we need to meet the calls from the public asking (for a successor)," Ito said. Although Ito would not speculate on the projected timetable for the second-generation NSX, it should be noted that when the project was stalled back in 2008 it was already at a very advanced stage.

Why has Honda decided to restart the NSX project?

Well, there's the pure economics of exploiting a market niche from which it has been absent since 2005, when NSX production stopped. Nissan has gratefully filled Honda’s presence with its GT-R and seen strong sales success as Japanese sports car enthusiasts the world over have practically no other (readily available) two-door Nipponese high-performance sports car to consider.

There’s a lesson to be learned by Honda from the world’s largest automaker too, at the extreme end of the supercar market matrix. Toyota’s glacial (10 year) development timetable with the Lexus LFA, bankrolled through the financial crisis, showed a brazen commitment. It has been rewarded by customer support for a Japanese vehicle selling at a price premium previously unimaginable.

SUPERCAR MARKET HOTS UP

Honda’s surely taken note of the LFA’s pricing and knows that, with the NSX’s pedigree, it could turn more profit on these cars than previously thought possible.

The release of an acclaimed documentary on Ayrton Senna (inextricably involved with the development, and mystique, of the original NSX) could provide the necessary interest (and provide potential marketing momentum) for a new NSX product initiative.

TRACK INSPIRED: Honda’s achingly pretty HSV GT racer. This car could provide the technical (and perhaps proportional) inspiration for the new NSX…

In the few years since NSX production ended the high-performance end of the road-car market has been assaulted with new product.
Nissan has brought its GT-R to market, Porsche has flooded its dealers with a range of GT3 units.

Mercedes-Benz has built the SLS AMG and Aston Martin even took a significant gamble with the limited-edition One-77. Even Audi has a supercar - the R8.

Whereas demand might have (perceptibly) softened for supercars during the latter stages of 2008, the current market cannot supply enough exotic machinery to keep customers happy.  

The presence of Honda’s HSV racers in the Japanese SuperGT championship last year kept faithful fans of the brand hoping that it would not completely abandon its high-performance heritage. These cars could perhaps offer a clue to the new NSX’s design. Honda’s HSVs are powered by a 3.4-litre dry-sump V8 producing 368kW and suspended by double-wishbones all round.

Although the new NSX’s configuration will in all likehood not stay true to the company’s naturally aspirated performance car heritage, some of the HSV’s aerodynamic styling features could migrate to the road car. Considering the HSV’s striking design, this could bode very well for the rebirth of Honda’s ultimate performance car.

Sometimes things take a little time. Mostly they are better second time around.


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