Honda's U.S. team goes on product offense
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to certain vehicles being developed by Honda's U.S. organization.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Honda America will take the lead in a growing list of global vehicle development projects to help the automaker fend off competitive challenges in North America and hedge against a strong yen.
The U.S. organization will engineer and develop the new-generation Acura NSX sports car, the next-generation Civic compact car, and other models, says Erik Berkman, the new president of Honda R&D Americas.
Berkman says he was appointed to the position in April in part because he likes to play "offense."
The Japanese automaker has been nurturing its North American engineering for the past two decades. But new pressures on Honda and other Japanese manufacturers -- including rising yen values -- is putting new responsibilities on the U.S. group.
Honda is also under growing pressure from smaller U.S. market players, including Nissan and Hyundai. Last year for the first time, Nissan's mid-sized Altima sedan outsold Honda's Accord. Honda is also seeing new competition to its Civic.
"Our U.S. r&d team is taking the next step in our growth toward an even larger responsibility for meeting the needs of our customers in North America," Berkman told an audience here at the 2012 Management Briefing Seminars here today.
Berkman said Honda's Raymond, Ohio, r&d center employs about 2,000 people and could expand in the next few years to accommodate the increased responsibility.
"I'm not saying the scope of our activities is on a par with R&D operations in Japan that were established more than 50 years ago," said Berkman. "But as an organization, our U.S. facilities and the skill level of our engineers have achieved full citizenship in r&d.
"We're now a big company. The question is do you play it safe, or do you swing for the fences. I like to swing."
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