Last month, Dario Franchitti won the 96th Indianapolis 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing. His car, like a third of Indy cars, was powered by a Honda V-6. “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday,” goes the saying that’s propped up NASCAR for five decades—and now Honda aims to heed that, with the hopes that the man who helped design the engine behind those open-wheel racers will sell more Civics.
With Honda, anything to sell the new Civic will help at this point.
Erik Berkman is the man in charge of Honda’s North American research and development, and he knows a thing or two about Honda racing: as a 30-year Honda veteran, he helped lead the team that designed the V8 racing engine. Now, his job is to shape all of Honda’s new cars, from the next Accord to the upcoming Acura NSX to yes, the new Civic. And he’s choosing not to mince words about his new expectations—including criticism directed at him from the automotive Fourth Estate.
“I know that there is a particularly high expectation for Honda to get back that magic it had at one time,” said Berkman, 53, in an interview last month at his new domain, the vast R&D center in Raymond, Ohio. “What are we going to do, complain that expectations are too high for us? That we want low expectations? That’s not right.”
What Berkman is best known for at Honda is pushing the Acura TL past boardroom naysayers and into brand-carrying success. He was involved in the production of the 1994 Accord wagon, the Odyssey, and the Acura CL coupe—and before that, bizarrely, at Delorean, where he was hired to produce a turbocharged version to actually reach 88 mph.
Does this mean we’ll see a Honda Civic time machine? Don’t count on it, even if automotive writers long for the well-built, criticism-free Civics of old. Berkman will be in charge of managing the Civic’s mid-cycle refresh, bumped up a year early and meant to fix beleaguered aspects like the interior. ”There’s an opportunity with the minor model change to tweak Civic,” Berkman said. “If we do that, we’ll knock off one more criticism.”
In short, Berkman will oversee the next Accord, the next Civic, and the hotly-anticipated Acura NSX. Having a racing expert in charge of your mainstream sedans will go a long way to regaining some of that surprising fun-to-drive magic Honda was known for in the 1990s—and until science finds a way to resurrect Ayrton Senna, having an IndyCar engine builder in charge of your supercar is probably a pretty safe bet.
Source: Automotive News