Japanese carmaker Suzuki said Thursday it remains committed to the US market despite steep declines in sales, and expressed confidence that a new vehicle launch will help it regain traction.
“We are here to stay,” Gene Brown, vice president for automotive marketing and public relations for American Suzuki Corp., said at the Chicago Auto Show, when asked about speculation the company may halt US car sales.
Brown said Suzuki will soon launch a new advertising campaign to show off the new mid-sized Kizashi, which will help elevate the brand’s profile in the US.
Suzuki has been battling speculation in the US and Japan about its demise in the US market amid a sharp slump in sales. In January, it sold just 2,040 cars and light trucks in the US, for a market share of 0.3 percent, according to research firm Autodata.
In 2009, its sales amounted to 38,695, or 0.4 percent of the market and a drop of 54 percent from a year earlier, Autodata figures showed.
Jeff Holland, director of communication for America Suzuki, said of the rumors: “I know there is a lot speculation but it’s not based on facts.”
Speculation intensified after a senior Suzuki executive was quoted by the trade publication Automotive News as saying it was “difficult” to retail cars in the United States.
Suggestions that Suzuki was thinking of pulling out of the US also escalated after General Motors bought out Suzuki’s stake in the CAMMI joint venture in Ingersoll, Canada.
Isuzu, another Japanese automaker, announced it was pulling out of the US in January 2008 as sales faltered. There also has been speculation that Mitsubishi might abandon the US in favor of selling cars in Russia and other potentially more lucrative market in the developing world.
Brown, however, said Suzuki is working on moving image away from the emphasis on value that has characterized the company’s approach to the market over the past 25 years.
He said Suzuki will emphasize a sportier image that ties back to its other products such as motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and marine products that already appeal to younger more active buyers.
The sporty look of the Karachi and the compact SX4 sedan as well as the Grand Vitara’s off road appeal fit well into the strategy, he added. Suzuki’s Equator pickup truck also fits nicely into a strategy that appeal to buyers of other types of Suzuki’s recreational products such as motorcycles and ATVs.
Brown noted Suzuki is a very successful car company in other parts of the world. He said it has 40 percent or more of the market in India and it also makes the single best-selling car in Japan.
Suzuki has recently entered into a new alliance with Volkswagen AG, giving it new access to diesel powertrains, Brown said.
Moreover, while Suzuki was hit by the recession, it was still profitable in 2009 and has now posted profits for more than 40 consecutive years.