Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Suzuki says ‘have faith’ in brand

I’m a fan of Suzuki automobiles. Let’s just get that out there. We own two Suzukis: a ’10 SX4 AWD and a ’95 Sidekick 4x4. And in most parts of the world, the company is known as a premier producer of small, fun automobiles.

As someone who’s passionate about the Suzuki brand and the vehicles it offers, I’m always curious as to how well the company is doing. It’s no different than having a favorite football team—you want them to do well. Unfortunately, Suzuki has faced some tough times lately in terms of sales.

For the last few years, there have been rumors swirling around that the company is going to leave the U.S. market due to the company’s low sales since the global financial collapse of 2008. Sales have been down drastically from their peak of 101,884 in 2007. In fact, in 2010, Suzuki only sold 23,994 vehicles. Sales were up 11% for 2012—a great thing. But it begs the question, what’s going on at Suzuki? Are they going to be around? Are we going to finally see the new Swift? I talked with Suzuki’s Director of Public Relations and Social Media, Jeff Holland, to hopefully get some answers.

“We’re refocusing our efforts,” says Holland. He acknowledges recent challenges with the brand: The loss of dealers. The strong Japanese Yen. In fact, he says that it’s essentially been the perfect storm for the company: Economic crisis, the Yen, GM filing for bankruptcy (GM and Suzuki were in a partnership), the sour Volkswagen deal, and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami. There’s been lots of changes, and it hasn’t made things easy for the company.

Suzuki logo
Subcompact Culture reviewed the SX4 SportBack in 2010.
So let’s cut to the chase: Is Suzuki pulling out of the U.S.? Holland said rumors have been swirling since 2006. He points out the company has built a $1 billion factory in Japan to build the Kizashi, and has advertised during both the 2011 and 2012 Super Bowls. “Suzuki wouldn’t invest that kind of money if we planned to leave,” Holland said.

So what has been up with sales? Holland says January sales, which were down 41% compared to January, 2011, were lower because of fewer incentives, and because they’re trying to clear out last year’s models. He thinks we’ll see sales rebound in February. He said part of it is getting the right dealers in the right locations, too.

So how about future models? Will the U.S. finally see the Swift, perhaps a Jimny, or another model?

“Suzuki is very conservative and keeps things close to the vest,” said Holland. This has been the case for quite some time, so there wasn’t anything he could comment on in terms of new or refreshed offerings.

The dealer network has been culled down, and Suzuki is looking to move forward. Holland said the dealers they have now are profitable, and things are moving slowly and cautiously. Suzuki’s core of dealers are located in New England, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, and the Seattle/Tacoma area; essentially, the “weather-centric” areas of the country.

As previously mentioned, Suzuki has advertised during both the 2011 and 2012 Super Bowls, although it was a regional ad buy, so the commercials for the Kizashi sedan that were aired were not shown in all markets. But Holland said the Super Bowl ads are a sign of more advertising to come, something the company has not done a lot of recently. Holland said that beginning in March and April there will be new regionally focused TV spots. In addition, Suzuki will continue to advertise nationally in print and continue its online advertising campaigns. There will be a new campaign called “Amazing But True,” which will be similar to the “Kizashi Kicks” ads.

Suzuki Grand Vitara - Subcompact Culture
The '10 Suzuki Grand Vitara reviewed on Subcompact Culture
Holland said he wants people to continue to have faith in the brand.

“The rumors have been around for six years, but the company has invested heavily,” he said. Holland said there is no reason to think anything is going to happen, but changes may not happen quickly.

Holland made it clear that Suzuki has invested in the U.S. I asked him if there was one thing he’d like to say to the readers of Subcompact Culture. Holland said, “Have faith.”

Since interviewing Holland in early February, Suzuki has lost its Director of Marketing and Product Planning, Steve Younan, which Suzuki told Automotive News, was a position that wouldn’t be replaced. Also, as of this day, Suzuki hasn’t posted to any of its social media outlets since February 6.

As a Suzuki fan, I’ll continue to hold faith in Holland’s words. I wish the best for the company, and hope to see some great things happen in the future. Stay tuned.

Subcompact Culture Review: 2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack
Subcompact Culture Review: 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara V6 4WD
Subcompact Culture Review: 2012 Suzuki Kizashi SE AWD
Suzuki Auto

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I sure hope to see a resurgence from Suzuki in America, but I can't see it happening without new, desirable products in the showrooms. The Swift hot-hatch, a refreshed SX4, and a Jimny/Samurai alternative to the big, heavy, expensive Jeep Wrangler would go a long way towards bringing customers back into dealerships.