HENDERSON, Nev. - American Suzuki Motor Corp.'s new XL-7, the biggest sport-utility the company has produced, moves the company upmarket into a cutthroat segment dominated by the likes of Toyota and Honda, to name just two.
Among the vehicles that will butt heads with the new Suzuki in the compact sport-utility segment: Toyota RAV4, Jeep Cherokee, Honda CR-V, Nissan Xterra and a new player, the Ford Escape, which went on sale in September.
How does Suzuki stand out against such formidable competition?
While it targeted noise, vibration and harshness to give the XL-7 a quiet interior and smooth ride, Suzuki thinks the vehicle's standard seven-passenger seating will give it an edge.
Everyone else in the pack has seating for five. The XL-7's third row of seats is designed to carry two children.
The XL-7 is nearly identical to the concept that debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Powered by a V-6, it is a little more than 19 inches longer than the automaker's volume leader, the Grand Vitara.
The price ranges from $20,299 for the base two-wheel-drive Standard model with five-speed manual transmission to $24,999 for the four-wheel-drive Touring model with four-speed automatic transmission. Prices include $500 for transportation.
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The XL-7 is expected to arrive at dealers in December.
'Our long-term goals are to increase brand awareness and to elevate Suzuki in the eyes of consumers in terms of product image, quality and desirability,' said Cam Smith Arnold, American Suzuki's director of corporate brand marketing and communications, at a media preview here for the vehicle.
'To do that we have to create excitement for our brand. We've got to offer products that capture the market's attention and fill a specific need better than our competitors.'
To grab attention, TV and print ads will make fun of big sport-utilities.
'We will be using monster SUVs in our ads as a foil to demonstrate that Suzuki makes a stylish sport-utility that's as big and versatile as you will ever need without being overbearing or impractical,' Arnold said.
The ads will convey the message that the XL-7 is the right alternative, and drive the point home with the tag line, 'It fits.'
The campaign will launch in early January, although the date has not been determined. Spots will be seen nationally on A&E, Discovery Channel, CNN, The Weather Channel, Lifetime, History Channel, Fox News and others, including live sports programming.
Print ads will appear in Car and Driver, Road & Track and Motor Trend magazines.
SALES GOAL: 30,000
The XL-7 is based on the Grand Vitara, although the wheelbase is stretched 12.6 inches and the rear overhang is lengthened 6.5 inches. The vehicles share a ladder-box frame. The four-wheel-drive mod-el includes a low gear for off-roading.
Power is provided by a 170-hp, 24-valve 2.7-liter double overhead cam V-6 that produces 178 pounds-feet of torque. Instead of using a rubber timing belt that requires occasional replacement, the XL-7 uses a self-adjusting, maintenance-free timing chain.
Other engine highlights include a direct drive valvetrain that eliminates valve tappet clearance adjustment, and a direct-ignition system that places the ignition coils over the spark plugs, eliminating the need for a distributor and high-tension ignition wires.
American Suzuki expects to sell 30,000 XL-7s in calendar 2001, with some sales expected to come out of the Grand Vitara. This year about 30,000 Grand Vitaras are expected to be sold, but that number is likely to slip to around 20,000 units next year.