Erik Berkman's iPhone wallpaper isn't of his wife, children or dog.
When Honda Motor Co.'s new North American development chief gets a text message, he sees a background picture of the automaker's V-6 IndyCar racing engine.
Dario Franchitti won the Indianapolis 500 last month using the engine designed by a team led by Berkman, who was on hand at the famed Brickyard to watch the victory.
Motor-sports passion -- central to founder Soichiro Honda, who said, "If Honda does not race, there is no Honda" -- will be an asset if Berkman can apply the same speed and creativity to product development.
Honda's first American president of R&D for the region is helping shape everything from a modified Civic and new Accord due this year to an overhaul of the Acura line that includes the NSX supercar.
The 30-year veteran of Honda plans to win back its reputation for innovative cars in the face of improving Korean, U.S. and German competition as well as critical reviews.
"I know that there is a particularly high expectation for Honda to get back that magic it had at one time," said Berkman, 53, in an interview last month at his new domain, the vast R&D center in Raymond, Ohio. "What are we going to do, complain that expectations are too high for us? That we want low expectations? That's not right."
Product development and engine innovations have a special place at Honda, which has been led since its beginning only by engineers, even as tight cost controls appear to have led it to take fewer risks on core models in the past decade.