Honda declined to make any of its executives available for interviews following Ikeda's appointment last week. Ikeda succeeds Mike Accavitti, a longtime marketing executive who had been with American Honda since 2011.
By the numbers, Acura has a lot going for it. Sales through the first half of the year are up 12 percent, outpacing the market's overall gains. And Acura has bucked the trend of shrinking car sales this year.
Yet overall volume for Honda's luxury brand still lags far behind that of BMW, Mercedes and, crucially, Lexus, a brand that has spent the last few years spinning its dowdy image toward one that promises more excitement.
"That used to be Acura's thing," Brauer said.
As a designer with some notable successes, Ikeda should be well-placed to see Acura through a similar transformation.
"If there's a brand's essence to be communicated to the public, I think a designer has a very strong way of communicating that," said Tom Matano, a former Mazda designer and company executive. He is now executive director of the School of Industrial Design at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. "That's what Acura needs right now."
In addition to securing the U.S.-based design studio, Ikeda is credited with the styling on the third-generation TL, which ran from the 2004-08 model years. The midsize sedan is among Acura's top-selling vehicles. More recently, Ikeda was instrumental in naming Michelle Christensen as the exterior designer of the upcoming NSX supercar.
At the same time, Ikeda will need to avoid pitfalls some of his fellow designers have encountered.
Designers aren't usually known for their skills with budgets and management, said Stewart Reed, chairman of transportation design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., Ikeda's alma mater. Those who have succeeded in management roles, such as Ed Welburn at General Motors or Peter Schreyer at Kia and Hyundai, have had strong business managers with whom to work
Others, such as Ralph Gilles, FCA's current global head of design, or Bryan Nesbitt, Buick's chief stylist, lasted in executive roles for only brief periods before returning to the studio.
Another potential roadblock, says Matano, is skepticism from other execs. "A lot of people think because we're designers we're different and crazy and do whatever we want to do," he said, "but we're not."