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Honda Creates New Acura Planning Arm to Lead Brand Overhaul

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Feb. 25 (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 yesterday in a statement. The Tokyo-based company didn’t provide details on how the division will operate.

In December Tetsuo Iwamura, Honda’s executive vice president and current North American chief, 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 sport-utility vehicles.

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, California.

“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.”

‘High Priority’

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.

“Erik’s appointment to the new Acura Business Planning Office is a clear indication of the high priority we place on Acura,” Jeffrey Smith, a Honda spokesman, said in a phone interview. Berkman “brings very strong and dynamic leadership to the Acura brand,” he said.

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 said yesterday that it will name Hideko Kunii, a professor of engineering at Japan’s Shibaura Institute of Technology, as the first woman to join the company’s board. The company also said Issao Mizoguchi, senior vice president of Honda’s South American business, will become its first Brazilian national to serve as an operating officer.

Honda’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California, and the company’s North American headquarters are in Marysville, Ohio. Honda’s American depositary receipts rose 0.3 percent to $36.24 at the close in New York and have dropped 12 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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