I’ve been telling you for a while now that I thought there was a good chance Suzuki would pull out of the U.S. Market. Now, insiders say the company is slashing marketing while sales and the dealer roster dwindle.
Evidence of a car company in trouble:
— In a market up 13 percent through March, Suzuki was down 2 percent to just 6,561 sales.
— The brand skipped the Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows this year and suspended social media activity on Twitter and Facebook two months ago.
— Steve Younan, the top U.S. product planning and marketing executive, left in January and will not be replaced. No national TV commercials have aired since 2009.
— In January, Suzuki stopped getting customer satisfaction data from J.D. Power and Associates — data that help track dealer performance. A memo obtained by Automotive News says another vendor will replace Power, but sources say no successor has surfaced.
— The dealer body continues to shrink. The brand shed 32 franchises last year, nearly 12 percent of its total. The number of U.S. Suzuki franchises has dropped every year since 2005.
The company’s strategy has become “very much focused on short-term profitability,” says one source familiar with the company’s recent cost-cutting moves who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re limiting their future in the U.S.”
Nobody at American Suzuki wants to talk about the troubles and the strategy for battling them, but Suzuki’s hard-pressed dealers are feeling the pain.
“At one point I really thought they were going to support it, but it was kind of like a downward spiral — no sales, no money, no advertising,” says former dealer Bill Kay, who dropped his Suzuki franchise last summer even though he had a vacant Chrysler dealership in suburban Chicago available for Suzuki.
The casualties in the United States have been many tools that most automakers use to promote their brand and products.
The last Facebook and Twitter presence was Feb. 6. After skipping auto shows in Los Angeles in November and Detroit in January, Suzuki displayed vehicles this year at the Chicago and New York shows, but freshened versions of the SX4 subcompact and Grand Vitara SUV, expected to arrive this year, were not among them.
The changes to the vehicles are the first cosmetic updates to Suzuki’s meager four-vehicle lineup in more than two years.
Suzuki’s newest vehicle, the Kizashi mid-sized sedan, went on sale in late 2009. Its SX4 subcompact has been on the market since 2007 with few updates. The current-generation Grand Vitara SUV has been around since the 2006 model year, and the Equator pickup, essentially a rebadged Nissan Frontier, arrived in November 2008.
In 2007, Suzuki’s U.S. sales reached 101,884, but last year they dropped to just 26,618.