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Honda launching Acura division

– Honda Motor Co., making good on plans to focus more on the image of its Acura brand, is setting it up as a division within the company for the first time with dedicated management, marketing and other resources.

The first premium car brand from an Asian automaker will be known as the Acura Division starting Tuesday and be led by U.S. Senior Vice President Mike Accavitti, the company said Monday in a statement.

The company’s namesake Honda Division will be led by Jeff Conrad, and both he and Accavitti will report to U.S. Executive Vice President John Mendel.

“American Honda automotive operations have long been separated by function rather than by brand,” Mendel said in a conference call. “This is a very significant step as it is the first time we have had a separate and exclusive division for the Acura brand. So this move obviously reflects the deep commitment we have for the future of Acura.”

The company since last year has acknowledged a need to shake up its premium brand, which arrived in the U.S. years before Toyota’s higher-volume Lexus luxury unit.

In December, Tetsuo Iwamura, Honda’s executive vice president and current North American chief, said fixing Acura, particularly its sedan line, was a top priority for the Tokyo company.

The plan for an Acura division follows Honda’s announcement last month that it’s forming an Acura Business Planning Office, which starts April 1, to be led by Erik Berkman, the company’s highest-ranking U.S. engineer.

Berkman, who led development of one of Acura’s biggest recent hits, the 2004 TL sedan, will lead product strategy and development for the brand, Honda said.

Improving the Acura line in the United States, the brand’s home market, is essential for it to become more of a global player, said Michael Robinet, managing director at consultant IHS Automotive.

“The U.S. market is critical, because it drives their activity from a global perspective,” he said. “There’s a real need to differentiate the vehicles from a technology perspective, the powertrain and at the customer-service level.”

Berkman’s TL helped push Acura to record U.S. sales in 2005 of 209,610 cars and SUVs. In 2013, a decline in Acura sedan sales kept Honda from a combined volume record, with Acura delivering 165,436 vehicles, 21 percent off its peak.