LOS ANGELES - A burgeoning youth movement within the executive ranks of Japan's Isuzu Motors Ltd. has reached across the Pacific with the appointment last week of 43-year-old Yasuyuki Sudo as president of American Isuzu Motors Inc.
He replaces Yoshito Mochizuki, 51, who will return to Japan as general manager of future strategy planning.
Sudo most recently served for two years as manager of future strategy planning for Isuzu in Japan. He also spent five years in the United States in the 1980s, as national manager of Isuzu Truck of America. But this appointment is his first exposure to the American light-vehicle market.
Sudo was involved in the agreement to build Isuzu heavy trucks in Janesville, Wis., as well as in deals to sell the Rodeo and Trooper to other marques and to market the Chevrolet S10 pickup as the Hombre.
General Motors has a 37.4 percent share of Isuzu Motors Ltd.
Isuzu Motors President Kazuhira Seki wants to speed corporate decision-making and reduce the hide-bound management-by-committee hierarchy that has slowed the company in recent years, Sudo said.
'The very important positions are being taken by young executives, some even younger than me,' Sudo said.
While not given exact volume targets, Sudo said he has been told that American Isuzu must play a more important role in Isuzu's global plans. And make a profit.
Isuzu sells more than one-fourth of its vehicles in troubled South-east Asia, the largest-percentage exposure of any Japanese automaker, according to Moody's Investors Service. That means that subsidiaries like American Isuzu will have to pick up the slack while Southeast Asia extricates itself from its economic crisis.
Even though the hot sport-utility market favors its products, American Isuzu light-vehicle sales have declined every year since 1994 and are off another 6.2 percent through March.
Sudo wants to build the Isuzu brand in America but understands that consumers know the Trooper, Rodeo and Amigo better than the Isuzu name.
Product-oriented marketing could take a new turn should American Isuzu introduce the racy VehiCross as a halo vehicle.
Both American Isuzu and the parent company want to bring the eye-catching vehicle over and have been displaying it heavily on the U.S. auto-show circuit to gauge customer reaction.
It is mostly a matter of meeting emissions and safety regulations and detuning the rather harsh suspension for American tastes, Sudo said.
'Our image needs to be led by product. We have a great strength in building body-on-frame vehicles. We will remain the (traditional) sport-utility specialist' in a market moving toward softer, car-based sport-utilities, Sudo said.
But he added that the VehiCross is not a typical sport-utility but more like a sports car based on a truck platform.