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Redesigned Acura made in Ohio faces competition from SUVs

Acura — a major employer of Clark and Champaign County workers — recently unveiled its updated TLX sedan, hoping new safety upgrades and a flashier exterior will provide a boost over competitors in its segment.

However analysts said the automaker may struggle to boost sales significantly as buyers increasingly look to crossover vehicles.

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The TLX, which is assembled in Marysville, will feature a redesigned grille, a new bumper and new technology features that include a new user interface for navigation, said Jessica Pawl, a spokeswoman for the company. Acura officials unveiled the updated sedan earlier this month at the New York Auto Show.

“This refresh focused on really cool and more aggressive design features,” Pawl said.

Acura is Honda’s luxury brand, and that segment of sedans has faced the toughest challenge in attracting buyers across the board, said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Autotrader. Honda is a major local employer, with about 1,400 workers from Clark and Champaign counties and about 13,000 Ohioans overall.

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“It’s the same story for not just Acura but all cars,” Krebs said. “The problem is it’s a sedan. That market is still turning toward sport utility vehicles. The shift from cars to sport utility vehicles has been occurring for a long time, but it’s been most dramatic in the luxury segment.”

The TLX competes with vehicles like the Audi A4 and Cadillac ATS. It debuted in 2014 and sold were more than 37,000 vehicles last year, according to information from the company. That figure was down about 21 percent compared to 2015, when the company sold more than 47,000 of the model.

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Honda hit an all-time sales record last year, part of an industry-wide trend in which automakers sold a record 17.5 million vehicles. The industry is expected to maintain strong sales this year, but Krebs said most experts believe those numbers will level off somewhat.

Honda’s sedans, including the Civic and the Accord, have remained popular, Krebs said, but are still being overshadowed by the brand’s SUVs.

“I’m sure everyone’s looking at their product thinking, how much capacity do we devote to cars and how much to sport utility vehicles,” Krebs said.

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Sedans will remain an important part of the brand, despite market trends, Acura leaders said.

“It’s no secret that the luxury sedan market is a tough business,” said Jon Ikeda, general manager of the Acura brand in a statement. “And with every premium automaker fighting for its share, I’m not surprised to see the competition resorting to very aggressive tactics. But we have continued to hold our own against the competition with the TLX while maintaining a disciplined sales approach.”

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The newest version of the TLX also offers a new trim the company is calling A-Spec, which includes a V-6 engine and several upgrades like a redesigned grille, round fog lights and other options designed to make the car more appealing to younger buyers.

Acura will announce pricing for the vehicle early next month.

“We’re reaching a new buyer that may not have considered the TLX before just because the styling wasn’t what they were looking for,” Pawl said. “When it comes to cars in general, between the ILX, TLX and RLX, Acura is able to meet the needs of the buyer and we’re making vehicles our customers want.”

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