NSX Project Update, Conference Call Notes
Date: May 14, 2013 12:05
Acura hosted a meeting last week, formally introducing the NSX's Chief Engineer to the media and discussing today's news (see press release). There were about a half dozen journalists present (including myself), and we had about an hour of Q&A towards the end of the meeting. As expected, the Q&A didn't really reveal much in the way of new info, as Acura was understandably protective of the most interesting details, but it did help provide some clarity on a few items.
First of all, a quick rundown/timeline on the genesis of the current NSX project:
- September 2011 - spy photos emerge showing a mystery Acura sports car being seen on The Avengers movie set, with one of the lead characters driving the car. At the time, Acura comments that the car is strictly a "one off". It turns out the car is a heavily re-skinned original NSX, and many of its styling cues appear on a fixed roof version, which is the NSX Concept to be shown later
- December 2, 2011 - Las Vegas - Acura invites a small group of media and dealers to preview their "Super Sports Concept" and other future Acura models. At the time, Acura does not officially call it "NSX". No photos are allowed at this time.
- December 12, 2011 - Acura formally announces that the NSX Concept will debut at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit
- January 9, 2012 - Detroit - Acura publicly reveals the NSX Concept which was shown to media in December. Announces plans for production "within 3 years". Reveals that it will be designed and built by American team in Ohio. It is announced that the new NSX will feature "sport hybrid" technology, coupling a midship VTEC V6 engine with a 7-speed DCT transmission and a set of electric motors. A new version of Acura's SH-AWD system features advanced torque vectoring capabilities.
- January 13, 2013 - Detroit - Acura reveals "next evolution" of NSX Concept design, showing an interior mockup for the first time. This interior is billed as "one potential direction" for the design, and we are told that there are one or more other versions being considered. The project has not deviated from its original stated goals. The exterior design is a refinement of the original concept, and Acura maintains that the key engineering details have not changed. Though it is not mentioned in the press release, we are told by (Honda R&D Americas President) Erik Berkman that Ted Klaus is the chief engineer for the new NSX.
- May 8, 2013 - Torrance, CA - Honda hosts a teleconference formally introducing Ted Klaus as the chief engineer
- May 14, 2013 - Marysville, OH - Acura issues press release announcing location of new $70 Million 184,000 square foot Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, OH facility will employ approximately 100 elite manufacturing associates to manufacture the NSX. Powertrains will be assembled at the nearby Anna, OH engine plant.
Ted Klaus has been with Honda R&D Americas (HRA) since 1990. Prior to joining Honda, Klaus was a Chassis Test Engineer for Chrysler. Below are some of the projects he has worked on at HRA:
- During a 2-year assignment at Honda R&D in Tochigi Japan, Klaus worked on the project team for the 3rd generation (DC2) Integra GS-R - 1993 (Japan model) 1994 (USA model)
- Upon returning from Japan, Klaus worked as a chassis development engineer at HRA and was put in charge of Acura's first tire development project.
- Klaus worked on many HRA-developed models, including the 1997 Acura 2.2/3.0 CL, 1998 Honda Accord Coupe, 1999 Acura TL, 2001 Acura CL, 2001 Acura MDX, and the 2004 Acura TL.
- Klaus then shifted his focus towards chassis technology integration, where he orchestrated the integration of SH-AWD and the Active Damping System featured in the 2007 Acura MDX.
- On the 2009 Acura TL, Klaus focused on the advanced Vehicle Stability Assist systems
- Klaus then became HRA's first Vehicle Dynamics Evaluator, where he was responsible for setting performance characteristics for all HRA developed products to be sold in North America.
- Klaus holds a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame
Following Ted Klaus's introduction, we went to the Q&A portion of the meeting. I took as many notes as I could but I couldn't get everything down and almost everything you will read below is paraphrased.
Q1 (Autoblog): This question asked about the NSX's positioning, and specifically where it fit in the "supercar" arena
A1: Klaus: "In order to understand the space that we intend to occupy, we have to understand the space that the original occupied." Klaus talked about how he had a meeting with Uehara-san (the original NSX's chief engineer) at the Japanese NSX Fiesta in Motegi last year, and they "learned some very important things" from those discussions. Mentioned that NSX originally stood for "New Sports eXperimental" and that's what it will stand for (with the new model). "In the space of the NSX, it's all about key essential attributes" which were noted as:
Klaus talked about within a given sportscar model (911 as an example, Audi R8 with V8 and V10 models as another example) there's a tremendous range of performance.
- Human Fit. Designing the vehicle around the driver. "The driver is the smartest control element of the vehicle. You can never make the vehicle smarter than the driver." So the vehicle must be very user friendly. "Human fit is all about getting the vehicle out of the way of the driver".
- Related to this user fit, the key dynamic element is Vivid Response
- How fast? As you're experiencing pure driving pleasure, how fast can you go around the track? The NSX sports car values are based on the original.
Q2 (Autoweek): Related to hybrids, was the team aware of cars like the (hyperperformance) hybrids like the 918, Laferrari prior to their announcements?
A2: Were not aware of LaFerrari, P1, etc. Klaus talks generally about how design decisions related to hybrid system will all focus on increasing performance, chassis balance, improving dynamic load transfer, tire loads, etc. Packaging components low in the chassis and central will help improve these traits. The system's torque vectoring abilities will generate vivid response. Hybrid system provides tremendous opportunity to enhance the driving experience.
Q3 (TOV): A High rpm, high specific output V6 was one of the key components that defined the original NSX. Will this be a feature of the new NSX, or will that be sufficient to achieve your performance targets? If not, will you need forced induction (turbocharging, supercharging) to achieve those targets?
A3: "It's a great question, Jeff." Not able to go into exactly the kind of detail that might satisfy all of these questions today. Talked about how original NSX had a really broad torque band, how torque band rises up with RPMs, creating amazing tractability, throttle response. "Excited about our plans" but can't talk about how they do it exactly. "High specific power per liter is part of the DNA" but they can't share exactly how they plan to achieve it.
Q4 (The Car Connection): Will the NSX use P-AWS system or a derivative of it?
A4: All of these great Acura technologies are available at our disposal. Certainly we'll be interpreting them for our mid-engine exotic, but we can't divulge the exact technology suite that we're working on. Excited to see that some of these types of technologies are being used by other makers (911). Apologies, can't be more specific
Q5 (Popular Mechanics): There doesn't seem to be a set schedule for this car. Just some hazy notions of about when it's coming out and how long development has been going on. Is it on schedule and do you have a date for actually launching the car?
A5: Can't talk about specifics of when the plan is to launch the car. Development is proceeding with a very specific schedule. Development team is in place, leading the development in HRA in Ohio. Powertrain development is being led in Japan. Will announce location of where vehicle will be produced. Project is on schedule, "all systems go". Sage Marie pointed out that Honda CEO Takanobu Ito announced in Detroit at 2012 NAIAS that the car would come out in "about 3 years", and they are on target to meet that statement. Bottom line, schedule is going as planned. Preliminary work on the project had started prior to revealing the styling concept in 2012. Since then they've been executing the engineering feasibility work.
Q6 (Autoguide): Will a racing version of this car appear before the production car? How important will the racing development play into the development of the road car.
A6: Can't say or break any news about "when" but there will be some announcements in that regard coming in the future. Acura has announced that they will race the vehicle - racing is a part of the development and consideration of this vehicle. Racing involvement improves the road car.
Q7 (Autoblog): We know you can't talk about specifics, can you talk about ballpark pricing, plus or minus $50k?
A7: Identified there are supercars (up to $250k) and now hypercars (~$1M 918, LaFerrari). Relates NSX to "pinnacle product" benchmarks 458 Italia, McLaren (MP4-12c), R8, 911, Corvette. Hints it will compete with those "supercars" but it will deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Absolute speed wont necessarily define the NSX, though it will be very competitive - the driver's involvement and driving experience will but the ultimate defining factor of the new NSX. Goes back to driver-centric design philosophy, sensitivity to driver's needs, "man machine synergy".
Q8 (Autoweek): Is there a drivable prototype and have you driven it? Have you driven at the Nurburgring?
A8: There is indeed a drivable prototype, been focusing on US tracks for now. Nurburgring is a finishing school, along with the public roads around the 'Ring serve as a great environment for fine tuning. Right now sorting out the basic fundamental issues but they will take it to the 'Ring when the time is right.
Q8b: Is it fast?
A8b: It's in a state right now where the potential is there. But as you know, the challenge is bringing all the pieces together.
Q9 (TOV): With respect to lifecycle, is this going to be another sort of "one shot" model like the last NSX, (where you drop this amazing vehicle but then don't do anything to continue development), or do you see this as a more permanent fixture in the Acura lineup with consistent updates and evolution within the lineup, or will we have to wait another 25 years for the 3rd generation NSX?
A9: We looked at one of the reflections from the original NSX development and related it to how we develop this vehicle with much more bandwidth in the future to take our formula at launch and evolve it further. We are very mindful of that and we have a plan on to have the vehicle grow in terms of performance and keep it special. As far as the cadence, of continuing to evolve the NSX and future models, that's something that we realized was not good. We can't get into all the reasons why it took so long to bring this vehicle back, but we feel like now is the perfect time to bring this vehicle back to re-establish those core values.
Q9b: Related to that question are you looking at ways to leverage your development efforts, to help amortize the costs of this project, perhaps sharing the technologies or platforms with more affordable models?
A9b: One of the things we're excited about, not specifically that, but the production techniques that we have developed to make this project feasible, even techniques as far as product delivery at the dealership. Those are the types of things that we will be excited to see trickle down. Perhaps, certain components can be leveraged for future products. But the way we assemble the vehicle, some of the materials technologies, those types of things will definitely be leveraged in future product developments.
Q10: (The Car Connection): In general, does the NSX signal the return of performance cars at Honda. Will there be a trickle down effect at Honda leading to the return of more sporty, enthusiast-oriented models?
A10: You're talking to someone that lives and breathes these types of products and I have a mandate from leaders within Honda and Acura to make a halo vehicle. These are the people who are putting the future plans in place. I can't guarantee it, but this is our mindset now. We have a lot of wonderful Honda and Acura products out there right now, maybe not as pure as the S2000, but they put a smile on my face today. This is an opportunity to leverage S2000, NSX and I think that is exactly the direction our company is going.
Q11 (Popular Mechanics): The NSX pioneered a lot of the all aluminum-structure, all sorts of bonding techniques, welding techniques, production technique etc. Should we expect more innovative production technology going into this car that we haven't seen before?
A11: Simple answer is yes. Defers details to manufacturing people who will give more information in the future. Klaus is proud of their plans, possess some of the best small production techniques in the world. Unique balance of human craftsmanship and highly accurate and highly repeatable manufacturing techniques. Some world firsts in terms of how they develop the monococque and chassis?
Q11b: Anything specific that you can tell us that is coming as a new material in the car?
A11b: the interesting thing about new technologies today is that beyond the exotic materials there's a really clever, deeper story about the manufacturing technique and the process to create the materials. Can't talk about the materials now, but will use the right material in the right place, considering rigidity, strength, durability, crash resistance as well as other considerations.
Q12 (Autoguide): What's being done to combat the weight issues related to the hybrid system?
A12: Certainly that's our primary challenge, to offset the mass of the hybrid system. We're approaching it systematically. Each part of the car - we're looking for the right material - joining it to the surrounding structure with the best process, benchmarking each and every subsystem and component at a world's best level, so the total vehicle mass can be brought to a point where the overall power to weight ratio is the best that it can be.
Q12b: Should we expect to see any of these big development to involve the hybrid components? In a way that's viewed as revolutionary?
A12b: Not prepared to dive into those details today.
Q13 (Autoblog): As far as expectations go, should we be more concerned about the (raw performance) numbers or stats or more about the driver's experience, the engagement?
A13: If you were investing your money - would you be more interested in a quick return, or would you want to retire comfortably? The quick return would be for us to put out impressive numbers, but that's never been our mode of operation. We're certainly aware of how important those numbers are to the actual customer and to the public. Some of the best vehicles out there put down wonderful performance (laptimes) even with less experienced drivers, but then as more experienced drivers get in there, there's more depth to the performance. Acura is really focused on the driving experience. The outcome will be tremendous performance numbers with the right balance of bragging rights for the customer and the brand.
Q14 (Autoweek): How many are you going to make? With a 100 guys, it sounds like small numbers
A14: "The car will be rare and will maintain a sense of specialness and rarity". The production numbers will be naturally limited. Eventually the NSX will be sold globally, so the volume of the vehicle will be divided amongst the markets. Limiting the numbers is important to the vehicle - don't want to produce TOO many. There are only so many people who have the desire and the means to purchase an NSX. This group of people will have a high level of expectations. Hopefully demand will outstrip supply. Hopefully it will be a more stable and a longer life. There's a different attitude than the first generation NSX.
Q15 (TOV): Looking at the first NSX Concept - the design itself set a very high level of expectations with respect to performance levels, price, etc. Obviously the team at Acura had some initial targets with respect to those types of metrics. In light of some of the recent products that have been announced and shown - performance numbers have escalated very rapidly - how much have the project goals evolved or been revised to reflect this competitive pressure? Has it moved the performance goals or price targets compared to where you were on day zero of the project?
A15: One of the tremendous challenges in developing a product for a future date is setting that bar very high internally. Acura was "blessed with team members and executives" who were willing to set the bar extremely high in the first place. "If you're not going to have intentions from the beginning to build a pinnacle/halo product, don't even bother, we'll just stop this development now". This story also dated back to the original NSX development program. Back then, Honda President (Tadashi) Kume was very disappointed with some of the early project proposals because they were not special enough. So for this project, Acura benchmarked some of the "brilliant" existing pinnacle products, and they set their targets above them. Ultimately, the answer to the original question is that Acura has not significantly altered their concept or their specific targets. "Aim is true", but acknowledges that there's been an "amazing explosion of unbelievable product". Chuck Schifsky, Acura PR Manager points out that President Ito worked on the original NSX design team, so his own personal expectations start out at a very high level. Klaus mentions that development projects such as the NSX, with such severe and focused expectations, it not only creates great technologies for future products but it also creates great future leaders for the company. This is the perfect time to go back to Acura's roots and to breathe life into their Precision Crafted Performance heritage. These next generation products, next generation leaders will come from these projects, just like Mr Ito came from the original NSX team.
Q16 (The Car Connection): Will this follow something like the 911 model where there will be many variants, lots of customization, or will it follow more of the typical Acura model, like "1 flavor, 2 packages". Any plans to offer more exotic personalization experiences?
A16: There's a little bit of stress for the customer in how there's a "gazillion" ways to configure a 911. That is not necessarily a good "human fit" approach. At the same time, we'll want to make the vehicle have a wonderful form and design, both inside and out, and give the customer a chance to add their own personal taste to the vehicle, so we're looking to strike a good balance between nearly infinite "bespoke" variant approach, but at the same time in this class of vehicle it won't be fully satisfying to severely limit the customization options.
Q17 (Popular Mechanics): Question about the Performance Manufacturing Center
A17: all covered in today's press release
Q18 (Autoguide): Why exactly is the NSX being built in the US?
A18: It is a global project, but the reason it is being developed and built in the US is because USA is the primary market.
Last edited by JeffX on
May 14, 2013 19:00