When Honda launched its Acura premium brand into the North American market in 1986, the luxury automotive landscape was significantly different than it is today.

Luxury was the domain of German brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, as well as American companies like Cadillac and Lincoln.

Rivals Japanese brands Infiniti and Lexus were still years away from launch, and Acura quickly built a reputation for reasonable luxury, decent performance and solid engineering. Sales in the United States and Canada quickly grew, and the brand outsold rivals Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus into the 1990s.

Somewhere along the way, however, the Acura brand seemed to lose direction, and the first Japanese luxury brand in the North American market soon found itself trailing other luxury brands with more prestige and higher performance.

Acura tried expansion into foreign markets to boost sales, with limited success. Hong Kong was added in 1991, Mexico was added in 2004 and China was added in 2006. Plans to launch the Acura brand in the Japanese market in 2008 were scrapped following the global economic downturn.

To boost lagging sales, Acura has announced plans to expand distribution into the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia by the end of 2013, and into Russia and the Ukraine the following year. All four markets are seen as potential growth areas for the Acura brand.

While Acura trailed most luxury rivals in U.S. sales last year, an influx of new products like the compact ILX sedan, the redesigned RDX crossover and a new flagship NSX may be just what the doctor ordered to return the brand to health in the United States market.