Several N.A. executive changes made

Honda forms new Acura planning arm after sedan sales fall

Several N.A. executive changes made

Acura's sedan sales fell 10 percent in the United States last year and kept Honda from a goal of achieving record sales in 2013, while overshadowing gains for the brand's more successful MDX and RDX SUVs.

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
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LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- Honda Motor Co., which saw a 10 percent drop in U.S. Acura sedan sales last year, is creating a new group to plan business development for the premium brand.

Erik Berkman, president of Honda R&D Americas, will become executive vice president for the North American unit and division manager of the newly created Acura Business Planning Office, Honda said.

In a statement detailing several management changes in North America, Honda announced:

• Takuji Yamada will become president of Honda North America, COO of North American regional operations and president and CEO of American Honda Motor.

• Tetsuo Iwamura, Honda North America president and American Honda president and CEO, will become chairman of American Honda and assume the new position of corporate brand officer for Honda Motor. He will remain Honda Motor executive vice president, executive officer and representative director.

• Tomomi Kosaka, a senior vice president of American Honda, will become president and CEO of American Honda and executive vice president of Honda North America.

The changes are effective April 1.

Honda didn't provide any details on how the new Acura division will operate.

In December, Iwamura said focusing on Acura, particularly its sedan lineup, was a top priority for the company.

A 10 percent drop in combined sales of Acura's ILX, TSX, TL and RLX sedans kept Honda from a goal of achieving record sales in 2013 and overshadowed gains for the brand's more successful MDX and RDX SUVs.

Acura, the first premium auto line from an Asia-based automaker, is still struggling to define its image in the luxury category, said Ed Kim, an industry analyst for AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, Calif.

"Acura for many, many years has been a brand without an identity," Kim said. "They are good, solid, dependable, somewhat premium cars that don't communicate any clear message about what they are. The best luxury brands stand for something."

Berkman, who joined Honda in 1982, led development of the 2004 TL sport sedan, among the most-successful cars in Acura's history.

Photo credit: Joe Wilssens

"Erik's appointment to the new Acura Business Planning Office is a clear indication of the high priority we place on Acura," said Jeffrey Smith, a Honda spokesman.

Berkman "brings very strong and dynamic leadership to the Acura brand," he said.

Berkman, who joined Honda in 1982, led development of the 2004 TL sport sedan, among the most-successful cars in Acura's history.

He was head of North American research and development, the first U.S. engineer to hold that job.

Smith declined to comment on specific changes being considered for Acura or on how the Berkman-led group will operate.

Berkman wasn't available for comment.

In the near term, Honda is adding the new TLX sedan to the Acura line this year to aid sales. The company also has said modifications are planned for Acura's ILX compact sedan, including a more robust powertrain, followed by the 2015 return of the NSX "supercar," a high-performance coupe.

The news of Berkman's new assignment came after Honda on Monday named Hideko Kunii, a professor of engineering at Japan's Shibaura Institute of Technology, as the first woman to join the company's board.

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