Honda names former Chrysler exec to steer U.S. marketing

Steve’s breakdown: There are a lot of issues and changes at Honda right now and bringing in this vet might work out. What’s interesting to me is that he left the car business for a couple of years so hopefully it cleaned his palate so he can bring in those fresh ideas that are so needed.

LOS ANGELES: American Honda Motor Co. has chosen an outsider and former Chrysler executive Michael Accavitti as its chief marketing officer.

Accavitti most recently was executive automotive adviser for Cisco Systems, but is better known as the veteran Chrysler executive who was president of the Dodge brand and lead marketing executive of the Chrysler Group before his 2009 departure.

Accavitti replaces Steve Center, who will lead a new enterprise within American Honda called the Environmental Business Development Office.

Center has been in Honda’s top U.S. marketing post since June 2008.

Accavitti inherits an organization that’s battling production shortages stemming from the March earthquake in Japan. American Honda’s U.S. sales have declined 3 percent this year through July in a market that’s up 11 percent.

To retain U.S. customers until stockpiles are replenished, Honda has taken the unusual step of extending leases or offering vouchers or rebates toward the future purchase of a new Honda.

Honda has told its U.S. dealers car and light truck inventories are not expected to return to normal levels until the last quarter or early 2012.

New group

The new environmental group will oversee Honda’s various green business initiatives, from the Fit electric vehicle to solar panel arrays to home co-generation units fueled by natural gas.

“Honda is structured by distribution group, by auto brands, motorcycles, and power equipment. But these futuristic energy creation groups are transcending those silos,” Center said in an interview.

With “the dynamics (of) the utility business, you can see that things are starting to break through all the distribution channels,” Center added.

Accavitti first worked for Chrysler starting in 1977. He installed axles on trucks at Chrysler’s Warrren, Mich., truck plant — known as Dodge City — to save money for college. He worked on the line for two years and one summer before starting college.

He rejoined Chrysler in 1984 when the automaker was hiring engineers and spent time in product marketing, brand management and racing.

At Honda, he will oversee the marketing of the Honda and Acura brands, public relations, auto shows and emerging-markets advertising.

The transition is occurring immediately, although it was announced internally on Aug. 1.

Accavitti is in the process of relocating to Los Angeles and was not immediately available for comment.

Fresh blood

“You need the fresh blood,” Center said about the changes. “Fresh thinking is good, but too much and you can lose your culture or focus.”

Last year, Honda extended voluntary retirement offers to certain employees and lost about 50 managers, many of whom had more than 30 years of experience at the company. Center said Honda is “still a very young company.”

Accavitti will have a full plate awaiting him as Honda strives to recover from the March earthquake.

Because of the earthquake-related inventory crunch that killed the momentum of the spring launch of the Civic, Honda will re-launch the compact car this fall. Also, a redesigned CR-V crossover arrives later this year, and a new Accord comes next spring. Those are three of Honda’s four “pillar” vehicles, Center said.

Honda brand sales are off 2 percent this year, and Acura sales are down 6 percent.

Like Center did, Accavitti will report to Tetsuo Iwamura, president of American Honda. Unlike other automakers, Honda separates its auto operations – such as product development, product planning and marketing – from auto sales, which covers distribution, wholesale and retail and is overseen by executive vice president John Mendel.

Center, 54, joined Honda in 1993 as part of Dick Colliver’s team of transplants from Mazda North American Operations. Mendel was formerly executive vice president and chief operating officer for Mazda North America before joining Honda in 2004.

Center’s career has included managerial positions in market support, e-business, Acura sales, advertising and public relations.

The Environmental Business Development Office will receive additional staff, but Center declined to give further details.

He called it “a combination of a brain trust, think tank and venture capital firm.”

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