TOKYO -- Suzuki Motor Corp., Japan's top maker of minivehicles, forecast on Wednesday a two percent rise in global car output in 2004 as it counts on better sales in the lacklustre domestic market.
Suzuki, owned one-fifth by General Motors, expects to build 1.935 million vehicles excluding motorcycles this year, with a three percent rise in domestic output to 949,000 units. It expects overseas output to remain unchanged at 986,000 units.
"It's going to be a tough year, but we will aim for a two percent rise in Japanese minicar sales through better marketing," President Hiroshi Tsuda told a news conference.
He said he expected the overall market for 660cc minivehicles, which account for one-third of total vehicle sales in Japan, to be unchanged at about 1.8 million units in 2004.
Suzuki, Japan's fourth-biggest auto maker by stock value, is expected to post record profits this business year ending March 31, mainly aided by a sales surge in Asia.
But while Suzuki remained Japan's top seller of minivehicles for the 31st straight year in 2003 with a 31 percent market share, its sales fell two percent from 2002, losing out to rival Daihatsu Motor Co., whose sales jumped 8.7 percent.
Suzuki also fared poorly in the United States, where retail sales fell 14 percent.
For this year, however, it forecast a 40 percent sales jump in the United States on a wholesale level to 95,000 units, driven by a better model line-up with the new Reno five-door crossover, unveiled at the motor show in Detroit this month.
"Until now we didn't have the right products," Executive Vice President Sokichi Nakano, also head of American Suzuki Motor Corp (ASMC), told a small group of reporters.
He said Suzuki aimed to build a strong sales network with the help of a few experts from GM, boosting the number of U.S. dealerships to 600 from the current 470 within two years. Poor performers -- estimated as making up more than half the total -- would be replaced in the process, he said.
MORE WORK IN INDIA
Suzuki said it would also pour more money into the promising Indian car market -- to the tune of at least 10 billion yen ($94 million) annually over the next three to five years -- to ensure continued growth.
Having taken a 54.2 percent stake in formerly state-owned Maruti Udyog Ltd., India's dominant car maker, last year, Suzuki said it would continue to streamline its operations, including through headcount reductions and more automation at its factories.
"If we renew our facilities and introduce more machines, we would be able to halve our workforce," said Chairman Osamu Suzuki, who is known for his penny-pinching skills.
Suzuki said spending would also go towards bringing more modern cars into India, adding that he wanted to remodel the Maruti 800 minicar, which is still India's best-selling car despite being around for 20 years.
Executives said the aim would be to wean owners of the Maruti 800, also India's cheapest car, off the model and shift to the more expensive Alto 1000 model.