Acura NSX is Honda’s Midwest jewel

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Marysville. Ohio — Driving down rural Ohio Route 739 northwest of Columbus, it is not uncommon to see cows, farm equipment and — FOOM! — a wicked, 573-horsepower Japanese supercar on a test run.

Twenty-six years after Honda’s luxury Acura decision wowed the world with the high-performance NSX, the long-awaited sequel will hit dealer showrooms later this year. The sleek hybrid-electric all-wheel drive 2017 model is a showcase for the latest sports car technology.

The NSX is also a showcase for how integral Honda has become to the U.S. Midwest.

In a purpose-built factory just three hours south of Detroit, Acura’s flagship is only one of two exotic, mid-engine supercars built in North America. The other, Ford’s $400,000 GT, is outsourced to Multimatic, a specialty coach maker in Ontario. Similar entries from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Audi are all developed overseas by elite engineers near their home headquarters.

“The NSX’s biggest market is going to be North America,” says Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas. “To make it successful for this market, Honda gave us the responsibility to develop it. The magic here is taking the best in Japan and then putting it together to what we know of this market.”

Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer calls the decision extraordinary. “You see foreign automakers like Toyota, BMW and Mercedes more and more commit 100 percent of development of U.S. vehicles to North America. But the unique thing about Honda is this is their very top-end car. Their commitment to the U.S. is really stronger than any other automaker.”

The original NSX was made entirely in Japan in 1990.

A lot has changed. The second-gen NSX will be manufactured exclusively in Ohio. Its chief engineer, Ted Klaus, and designer, Michelle Christensen, are Americans. Designed in Los Angeles and engineered at Marysville’s Research and Development Center, the NSX is all-American but for its Japan-developed hybrid powertrain.

Like its predecessor, the NSX is Honda’s state-of-the-art. It is benchmarked to the Ferrari 458, the supercar standard. Yet, in keeping with Acura’s “affordable” luxury brand, it delivers Ferrari performance for some $90,000 below the Italian Stallion’s $240,000 base price.

The Performance Manufacturing Center, where the low-production NSX will be handmade, is in the shadow of Honda’s massive, 4-million-square-foot Marysville final assembly facility.

Opened in 1982, the plant produces the Honda Accord — the best-selling retail U.S. sedan — alongside the Acura ILX and TLX, the luxury brand’s top-selling sedan. Eight miles away, the East Liberty plant churns out America’s top-selling crossover in America, the Honda CR-V and its sister Acura, the RDX.

All told, Honda’s northwest Columbus empire employs 8,100 people over 8,000 acres, pumping out a staggering 680,000 vehicles a year. Another 3,900 work at the nearby engine plant in Anna and the transmission facilities in Russells Point.

Honda’s reach extends into Michigan, where it did $1.9 billion in supplier purchasing last year — in addition to $9.4 billion in Ohio and $2.4 billion in Indiana.

There’s more on the way. MDX production is moving from Alabama to East Liberty. “We’ll basically have all of our Acura manufacturing right here in one location — with us leading development hand-in-hand so we can start leap-frogging technologies,” says Paluch.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News.