Working to shore up its upscale Acura brand, Honda Motor Co. plans to split its sales and marketing efforts into separate divisions in the U.S.
Honda is looking to punch some energy into Acura, which has lagged its bigger Honda sibling in sales growth and has struggled to carve out a strong image. Acura sold 165,000 vehicles in the U.S. last year, down considerably from the peak of 209,610 it sold in 2005.
Industry veteran Michael Accavitti will become senior vice president and general manager of the Acura Division, the Japanese automaker said Monday. He previously headed national marketing of both the Honda and Acura brands. Jeff Conrad will become senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division.
While Acura packs its vehicles with technology equal to any of the luxury makes, it has struggled to convince consumers that it is on the same playing field with brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Automotive.
"The parts seem to be there, they just haven't found the secret sauce," Brinley said. "There's not a lot of panache or excitement."
It wasn't always that way. Acura's initial sedans, the Legend and smaller Integra were well received when they were introduced in the late 1980s.
But successive sedans haven't matched up "and they have struggled to communicate a solid image," Brinley said.
That's left Acura as more of a sport-utility vehicle company. Just two SUVs, the MDX and RDX, accounted for almost 60% of the brand's sales last year.
Styling also has held Acura back, gyrating from conservative to outrageous "and neither has worked particularly well," said Jack Nerad, an analyst at auto information company Kelley Blue Book.
"They need a model or two with great exterior styling that can change people's perceptions about the brand," Nerad said.
The new structure demonstrates that Honda is prepared to devote the resources necessary to "revitalize" Acura, said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., who will oversee both brands.
"This move obviously reflects the deep commitment we have for the future of Acura," Mendel said.
"We have done a good job with the SUVs but we have struggled with the sedans," Mendel said. "There is a lot of recognition that Acura could be and should be a much stronger brand than it is today."
In addition to separating the two brands, Honda also has established the Acura Business Planning Office, which will set the global direction for Acura products. Mendel said Erik Berkman, currently president of Honda R&D Americas, will become an executive vice president of Honda North America with responsibility for the new Acura Business Planning Office.
Earlier this year, Honda said it would discontinue two sedans, the TL and the TSX. It will replace them with the new TLX sedan this summer. The new model will slot between the compact ILX sedan and the full-size RLX sedan in a simplified lineup.
The base model will use a direct-injected, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Expect horsepower and torque figures to be north of 200. This engine will be paired with an all-new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and will be available only with front-wheel-drive.
The optional engine will be a direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Pricing hasn't been announced, but is expected to be close to the $31,530 starting price of the outgoing TSX. Like the TL it replaces, the 2015 TLX will be built in Acura's Marysville, Ohio, plant.