Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Issao Mizoguchi. He is Honda's first foreign operating officer.
LOS ANGELES -- Concerned that its Acura premium brand may still be traveling "a wandering road," Honda North America last week created an Acura Business Planning Office to give the marque more focus.
The group will be headed by Erik Berkman, Honda North America executive vice president, who was promoted from president of Honda R&D Americas. He will have 10 staffers, representing sales, engineering, r&d, purchasing, manufacturing and quality control across all of Honda's North American operations.
The "wandering road" theme came from meetings between Honda executives and potential advertising agencies during last year's agency search. Honda executives told prospective agencies that Acura had been seeking a new brand image, not just for marketing but as a product identity. As part of its pitch, eventual winner Mullen coined the phrase "It's time to stop wandering."
Acura's crossovers -- the compact RDX and mid-sized MDX -- are both among the top sellers in their segments. But the brand's front-wheel-drive sedans have failed to gain ground against rear-wheel-drive rivals from Europe and Japan. Muddled marketing and overlapping product sizes among the ILX, TSX, TL and RLX caused Acura's car sales to drop 10 percent last year.
The RLX was launched last spring to middling press reviews. ILX, which is based on the Honda Civic, has been criticized for lacking power appropriate to a premium vehicle, and the TL and TSX were in the late autumn of their product cycles.
The TL will be replaced in spring by the TLX, and the TSX will leave the lineup.
Honda spokesman Jeffrey Smith said the new group will have "emphasis on strengthening the products and strategies ... aimed specifically at accelerating the revitalization of the Acura brand.
"Acura is clearly on the radar and this is an indicator of that priority," Smith said. "This is the A-Team."
Replacing Berkman as head of Honda R&D Americas is Frank Paluch, currently a senior vice president at Honda North America Services, which coordinates support functions for Honda's North American operations.
In related personnel announcements, Takuji Yamada will take the place of Tetsuo Iwamura as Honda's top North American executive. Iwamura will retain his existing U.S. titles and remain an executive officer of the company.
Honda Motor also named its first woman board member, Hideko Kunii, a professor at the graduate school of engineering management at the Shibaura Institute of Technology. Honda also named its first foreign operating officer: Issao Mizoguchi, a Brazilian of Japanese descent and a senior vice president at Honda South America.