Honda is making far-reaching leadership changes in North America, including a new top executive for the continent and a new chief overseeing the Ohio assembly plants.

February 26, 2014

Honda is making far-reaching leadership changes in North America, including a new top executive for the continent and a new chief overseeing the Ohio assembly plants.

The moves, announced late on Monday, will take effect on April 1. Honda said the changes are part of the company's "continued strategy to strengthen its leadership within the region and increase the role played by Honda's North American sales, manufacturing and (research and development) operations within Honda's global business."

Takuji Yamada will become president of Honda North America, which oversees all the company's operations on the continent. He also will be president and CEO of American Honda Motor Co., which is the company's sales and marketing arm. He is moving up from executive vice president of the sales office.

Yamada will replace Tetsuo Iwamura as the top executive in North America and head of the sales office. Iwamura will hold the title of chairman of the sales office and also become corporate-brand officer, a newly created role in which he will work to maintain the strengths of the company's brands around the world.

Although Iwamura has been based in Marysville since April, Yamada will spend time at locations across the continent and will not have a home base.

"He will have a desk everywhere," Honda spokesman Jeffrey Smith said.

Tomomi Kosaka will become president and CEO of the division that oversees the assembly plants in Marysville and East Liberty and the engine plant in Anna. He is moving up from senior vice president of that division.

He will replace Hidenobu Iwata, who will remain as a senior managing officer for manufacturing until he retires in June. Iwata often has been the public face of Honda manufacturing at events, including the announcement in May that the Acura NSX high-end sports car be produced in Marysville.

Honda announces executive changes every year around this time, ahead of its new fiscal year that begins in April.

Smith said this is not an unusual number of leadership changes for the company, although several of the changes do involve high-profile positions.

"Change is just a sign that we're constantly revitalizing the company."

Last year, the big move in North America was the creation of a Marysville-based executive post that would oversee and coordinate all of Honda North America's divisions. Iwamura was the first person to hold that job. He relocated from California, where he had led the sales office, although he has continued to serve as top executive of the sales office while taking on his new responsibilities.

With these latest changes, there still will be a top executive for North America, but he will not be clearly tied to Marysville in the way that Iwamura has been. At first glance, auto analysts see some familiar names in new roles but no apparent shift in the way the company operates.

"It's tough to really divine a whole lot out of it," said Mike Wall, auto analyst at IHS Automotive. "It doesn't look to be a real divergence in terms of strategy."

In the past few years, Honda's approach in North America "has been about having a nimble leadership structure that can respond to changes on the ground," Wall said.

The company also is putting a renewed focus on its Acura brand and making changes at its research and development division.

Erik Berkman, the president of research and development, will leave that job and become leader of a new office that oversees the Acura brand.

Frank Paluch will assume Berkman's role as president of research and development, where he is now a senior vice president. His office is in Raymond, near the Marysville campus.

The focus on Acura is overdue, said Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for Last year, the luxury brand's car sales fell by 10 percent, helping to cancel out much of the 21 percent increase in truck sales.

"Acura's stagnation in sales has been apparent for a while now," he said.

The next key moment for Acura is the release of the TLX, a Marysville-made replacement for the TL sedan that will go on sale later this year.