Rapidly declining sales and a shortage of product launches in 2003 made life difficult for Isuzu Light Vehicle Dealer Advisory Council Chairman Bob Scena, owner of Showcase Isuzu in Bourne, Mass.
Isuzu's 2003 sales plunged 42.8 percent to 30,328. No new products are planned until the 2005 model year, and Isuzu slashed its ad spending 44 percent in the first half of 2003 compared with the first half of 2002.
In March 2002, Scena and his fellow U.S. dealers were told Isuzu management was launching a three-year turnaround plan. But recovery is not coming fast enough for many dealers despite new pricing in 2003.
"Isuzu is known as a brand that emphasizes value," Scena said. "We just need to get out there with some new products and let people know that some of the features they can get with us are standard and won't cost extra like many other brands. But we need the product."
The portfolio is limited. The aging Rodeo will have to prop up the franchise through the 2005 model year, and a redesign has been scrapped.
Last fall, Isuzu introduced the five-passenger Ascender - the rebadged Chevrolet TrailBlazer - a follow-up to the seven-seat Ascender that arrived in 2002. But the Rodeo Sport has been dropped, and production of the Axiom ceases at the end of the 2004 model year.
For the 2005 model year, Isuzu hopes to get a body-on-frame SUV, built off the company's Thai-market pickup. The seven-passenger SUV will be larger than the Rodeo and the old Trooper but shorter and narrower than the Ascender.
Scena is in his third three-year term as dealer council chairman. He has held the job since 1996. His Bourne Showcase dealership also sells Nissan, Suzuki and Isuzu commercial trucks. Scena spoke with Staff Reporter John Guibord.
What went wrong with the plan to have a full line of diesel trucks produced by General Motors in Thailand?
The problem has been the Chicken Tax. The only way we can get those diesel pickup trucks from Thailand into the United States is if the Chicken Tax is repealed. But with a 25 percent duty on our trucks, it makes it difficult. If the tax is repealed, Isuzu can compete (on price), but otherwise it's difficult, and that's too bad, because those diesel engines are some of the best in the world. The pickups we're making in Thailand are some of the top-selling vehicles in Thailand and even in Australia.
Is the dealer body too large, and should it be reduced?
It doesn't need to be reduced by Isuzu. It is already being reduced by the economics of the situation. It's not a profitable situation with the Chicken Tax, and it won't be for many of our dealers until it can be repealed and we can get some new products. Dealers aren't getting the product, and they're hurting because of it. The weaker dealers are going to leave, but Isuzu expects that to happen.
What impact did lower sticker prices have last year?
Isuzu lowered prices close to $3,000 across the board on Rodeos and Axioms, which helps, but all it really does is reduce the sticker shock consumers might have anyway. They have also put some incentives on vehicles, but that's really to cut down on the price shock buyers might have.
What new models will Isuzu have to sell in two to three years?
There is nothing really planned that I know of. It is going to be pretty thin until 2005. The only new product we are going to have for 2005 - and we have a 90 percent commitment for it - is the Model 190, which probably will be called the Trooper. It will be a seven-passenger vehicle made in Thailand, but that won't be until the 2005 model year.
How is dealer morale?
Morale is kind of down. People are just living with what they have. It hasn't been easy. I mean, I used to sell 100 Isuzus a month, now I might sell two a month. The problem is a lack of product - we're not getting it and things are going to be thin for the next couple of years. Once we can get the product going, it will turn around.