Most of the 30 to 40 dealers at the Suzuki make meeting were upbeat. Their major concern was one Suzuki management can't do anything about: Chevrolet dealers getting a Tracker powered by the V-6 engine that had been exclusive to the Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Suzuki executives were not able to tell dealers how many Trackers with the V-6 would be built.
'It's not our call,' Gary Anderson, American Suzuki senior vice president, told them. 'I thought we'd get more phone calls and letters about it, but we didn't. The Tracker won't be the only competition with a V-6 engine. There will be a lot more competition in the coming year.'
Some dealers do not feel threatened by the V-6 Tracker. 'I'm a Suzuki dealer surrounded by five Chevrolet dealers, and I'm not seeing much cross-shopping yet,' said Peter Kirill, dealer principal at Kirill Suzuki in Jacksonville, Fla.
HAPPY ABOUT THE XL6
Suzuki dealers are optimistic about another product that will be unique to the segment. The XL6, shown as a concept vehicle first at the Detroit auto show and exhibited at the NADA convention, is a sport-utility larger than the Grand Vitara, with the seating of a minivan.
Suzuki told dealers they would test drive the XL6, which could get a name change before it goes on sale, at the dealer meeting at the end of the year. It will go on sale as a 2001 model. The XL6 will have three-row seating accommodating seven passengers. The concept seats only six.
Suzuki also outlined plans to communicate better with its dealers in order to improve customer and sales satisfaction and to boost customer loyalty. In addition to its publication for dealers, called 'Tracks,' Suzuki launched a new publication for salespeople called 'Road Warriors' and a publication for owners called 'Adventures.'
In response to initial quality problems on the Vitara and Grand Vitara, Suzuki executives told dealers at the make meeting that it will add inspectors at ports so quality problems are fixed before vehicles go to dealers. Suzuki also will open a fourth regional office, complete with service technicians, in Chicago to cover the Central United States. It will open three new district offices, bringing the total to 20. Suzuki plans to have 400 dealers by year end, up from 340.
Though overall industry sales are expected to dip this year, Anderson predicts new product and additional dealers will boost Suzuki sales 25 percent over 1999. Suzuki's 1999 sales were 49,888, up 33 percent from the previous year.
Suzuki said it plans to roll out its e-commerce strategy, being developed with dealer input, by year end.