LOS ANGELES - American Suzuki really means it this time.
After promising in 1997 that it would achieve 100,000 U.S. vehicle sales in 2000 - a mark it still hasn't come close to reaching - Suzuki boasts it will reach 200,000 sales by 2007.
After its inability to hit the mark last time, why should anyone believe this latest projection?
Because Suzuki executives say they are willing to make the capital commitment. The late-1990s growth plan was based on a modest expansion of the product line. But this time, Suzuki plans to:
"Suzuki in the U.S. has had no discipline, no strategy," says Hirotaka Ono, director of overseas automobile marketing for Suzuki Motor Corp. in Hamamatsu, Japan. "In Europe, our customer perception is straightforward and honest. We want the same for the United States."
Suzuki's peak in America was 83,334 units in 1987, when its gutty little Samurai SUV was king. But when the Samurai was labeled unsafe by Consumer Reports, sales plummeted.
On the long road of recovery, Suzuki sold 67,855 units last year, up 4.9 percent from 2001.
Sales for the first four months this year, at 19,962, are essentially unchanged. By contrast, through March alone, Suzuki sold nearly 40,000 vehicles in Europe.
Don Hicks, dealer principal of Shortline Automotive in Aurora, Colo., has been a Suzuki dealer since 1988. He also sells Kia, Hyundai and Subaru from his "big little car store." He has heard Suzuki's grow-fast plans before, but this time he believes Suzuki has a shot.
"We're going to be in two segments we aren't in now," Hicks says. "They're committing to spending big advertising money when they've had not much national presence. And if there's a manufacturer that has not-so-great facilities, it's Suzuki. The only thing we're missing now is big volume."
Hicks' dealership sold 260 new Suzukis last year.