Valencia Acura co-owner Cheri Fleming got more than she expected on a recent trip to Japan in her role as a volunteer for Soroptimist International of Greater Santa Clarita Valley: While there, she had the unprecedented opportunity to tour the Honda plant where Acura vehicles are designed.
Fleming, who celebrated 22 years at what she calls their “friendship” dealership this month, was invited to Yokohama, Japan, for the annual Soroptimist convention as a past president of Soroptimist International of the Americas.
“I was given a wonderful opportunity to travel to those regions, and I jumped at the opportunity,” Fleming said.
Meanwhile, before the August trip, Fleming had met Yamada-san, an executive Fleming befriended while he worked at Acura in Los Angeles before moving back to Japan.
The two stayed in touch, and when Fleming told him she would be in the area for the convention, he set up an exclusive visit to Honda headquarters in Tokyo for her.
This would be the first time a U.S. dealer would have this experience and be invited to visit Honda headquarters.
Fleming first had lunch with Yamada-san and four of Acura’s product-planning associates, and she “felt so special,” she said.
Fleming then went back to headquarters and met with Japan’s Acura team, where they asked her about business and sales here in Valencia, and then gave her the opportunity to ask questions, as well.
“There’s a misnomer with some of the Acura dealers in the U.S. that sometimes Japan does not care about Acura as much as Honda, but they quickly changed my mind,” she said. “Nothing is more important than trying to figure out where Acura is going.”
One of those areas regards alternative fuel sources and electric vehicles. Fleming said she was surprised to learn that there’s a perception in Japan that the American market doesn’t have a sense of urgency about such developments, since gasoline in the United States is considered relatively cheap compared to the prices Japanese motorists are accustomed to paying.
They also discussed the investments the manufacturer has made in the development of hydrogen fuel cells, which Fleming believes will be the future — as water is their only emission.
“If we can build an infrastructure to refuel cars with hydrogen, that would be amazing,” she said. “But I would be happy to be playing in the electric market, as well.”
The cherry on top of Fleming’s trip was when Asimo, a Honda humanoid robot, came out and did a presentation tailored for her.
“All the Acura executives came to watch with me — I was really honored,” she said. “It was an amazing experience.”
Almost a year later, Acura has announced to dealers that they are closing down one of the production lanes at the Marysville, Ohio, manufacturing plant as they are looking toward “the future and electrification.”
“I’m now sitting with bated breath and excitement,” Fleming said. “It gives me reassurance that there is an Acura team that truly wants Acura to be at the top of everyone’s list again.
“Acura life is very exciting right now,” Fleming said. “We’re on the track to having our own performance division of Honda. Our cars are looking amazing, they perform wonderfully. Our future is looking very bright.”