Honda needs more aggressive marketing, or it faces losing additional customers to surging brands such as Hyundai, Honda's top dealer representative said.
"Our competition is spending a lot more money, so we have to spend to stay up with our competition," said Bill Woeste, chairman of Honda's dealer advisory board. "We need that share of voice back. Honda needs consistent, aggressive marketing. For these aggressive sales goals, those things need to be in place and ready to go."
Honda sales, affected by lean inventory after the March earthquake in Japan, fell 7 percent last year in an overall market that was up 10 percent. Sales were strong before the March quake, Woeste said.
Now that inventories are increasing, he said, customers need to know that dealers are well stocked.
Woeste is happy that Honda last year hired Mike Accavitti, the former Chrysler executive, to run its marketing. He said Accavitti will "put his fingerprint on what is done. That means things are going to change."
One sign of Honda's new marketing approach was the placement of the redesigned CR-V crossover on the ABC reality show "The Bachelor." The contestants sat in a CR-V and talked about out their "leap lists" -- things they want to do before taking the leap into marriage and children. Woeste called it "pretty neat implementation of product placement."
Still, Woeste is uncertain about the big budget required for both Honda and Acura to run commercials during the Super Bowl.
"If it were me it would be hard to spend that kind of money," said Woeste, who also owns Maserati, Audi, Porsche, Toyota and Volvo stores in Cincinnati.
"What's on TV isn't as important as what I can look up on my iPad, when people can just look up the commercial snippets," he said. "The buildup makes the commercials anti-climactic."