Honda’s NSX attracted just a single customer in Australia

Honda's NSX could be the poster child on just how far you can – or can't – push a brand.

The $420,000 supercar designed to reignite the F1-inspired 1990s bravado of the original NSX brings some high tech hybrid might to a market dominated by the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche.

But official figures show the long-awaited second generation NSX has attracted just a single customer in Australia since going on sale late in 2016.

Honda says a second customer received their car in the last two weeks and that there are another four or five orders that will be delivered over the next six months.

At least those owners will be all but guaranteed their neighbours won't have one, unlike many driving a Porsche 911 or Ferrari 488.

It's not a numbers game

The Japanese brand desperately trying to recover its reputation for innovation and performance denies the NSX is a flop, claiming the NSX was always about showcasing innovation – it is the first mainstream hybrid supercar – and creating a halo for the brand.

But even in America it's a slow seller, falling short of initial sales forecasts.

Considering it's early in a sports car's life that most owners are tripping over themselves to get into the freshest go-fast metal, it doesn't bode well for a car Honda describes as a "must-have supercar".

If history is anything to go by…

History hasn't been kind to mainstream brands wanting to step into the top end.

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The self-proclaimed people's car – Volkswagen – has occasionally tried to push its brand limits, with mixed success.

In the early 2000s Volkswagen announced the $200k Phaeton limousine would arrive in Australia to challenge the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. A bold move from a company that created the humble Beetle.

Plans were shelved at the eleventh hour when local execs realised taking on luxury brands was a tough sell.

Forging ahead

Not that Volkswagen has given up.

The Passat CC – a more stylish interpretation of the mainstream Passat – in some ways competed with entry-level sedans from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

Late this year Volkswagen will introduce the CC's replacement, which drops the Passat moniker, instead adopting the Arteon nameplate and in turn stepping up the luxury.

Luxury coming down

Of course, in some ways it's easier for luxury brands to leverage their appeal in more affordable price brackets.

The German luxury brands have pushed that extensively in recent years, introducing smaller models that still bring a price premium but introduce owners to the marques earlier – with the idea of creating loyalty for life.

The challenge then comes with maintaining the appeal once sales increase. Mercedes-Benz's C-Class, for example, is now a big seller, outselling the likes of the Subaru Liberty, Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo. For the first six months of 2017 Benz has sold 4442 C-Classes, about 40 percent as many as Holden has sold Commodores (10,943).

Mercedes argues the brand values for cars such as the C – and smaller A, CLA and GLA – remain, even if the exclusivity has been diluted.

Over the edge

Sometimes, however, things can be pushed too far.

Aston Martin learnt the hard way with its Cygnet, sold only with the steering wheel on the left.  

It was a leather-laced version of the Smart-sized Toyota iQ complete with an Aston Martin grille and bonnet vents awkwardly grafted on its stubby nose. The two-seater city runabout was about meeting stricter emissions standards more than going fast and pampering.

It's the last thing superspy James Bond would have been seen in. And, as it turns out, the Noddy-looking body was the last thing traditional Aston Martin owners wanted to be seen in, too.

The model sold poorly and was quickly shelved although, ironically, its rarity prices have surged as people want to own a piece of oddball automotive history.

Short shelf life

Ferrari and Maserati also plonked their storied brands on cars with none of the marques' traditional brand values.

Each was little more than a pumped-up version of the Fiat 500 city hatchback - with an appropriately fat price tag.

Granted, the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari wasn't officially a Ferrari, but the badges were there and some people shelling out half a million-plus for the real deal were less than impressed.

Each, again, was shortlived.

And some that have bucked the trend

The Nissan GT-R is one of the most successful examples of a car that punches above the rest of the brand.

Like so many mainstream brands Nissan stands for value and it plays in the mainstream.

Yet the company still manages to charge upwards of $170k for a car that is regularly compared to some of the fastest Porsches on the road.

GT-R is in many ways a sub-brand neatly separating itself from the mediocrity Nissan has done so well in recent years. Its nose has a GT-R badge instead of the Nissan logo gracing all the brand's other vehicles.

The promise of Porsche 911 Turbo-matching performance for half the price is key to its appeal.

Sure, the current GT-R is getting on in life – the current shape arrived in 2009 and received a major update in 2016 – but there's still nothing for the money that will lap a track quicker.

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