Two words sum up what Isuzu dealers want: more product.
That is according to Scott Lasher, chairman of the Isuzu Dealer Advisory Council.
Isuzu sells only a pickup and an SUV in the United States.
The Isuzu Ascender SUV has been available in five-seat and seven-seat versions, but the seven-seater will die this month when General Motors closes the Oklahoma City plant that builds it.
The Ascender is based on the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy.
That leaves Isuzu dealers with the five-seat Ascender and i-280 and i-350 pickups. The pickups are based on the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon.
Lasher says losing the larger
Ascender is not catastrophic for Isuzu dealers because they sell more five-passenger Ascenders. But it makes a small product line even smaller.
"We need more things to sell, not fewer things to sell," he says.
Lasher says Isuzu has indicated that it might make a diesel engine available.
He says his own wish list includes a small SUV that would compete with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
The dealer council plans to make sure that American Isuzu Motors Inc. hears its request for products loudly and clearly, Lasher says.
Lasher, 50, owns Lasher Auto Group, in Sacramento, Calif. He shared his views about the challenges for Isuzu and its dealers with Staff Reporter Arlena Sawyers.
What does losing the seven-passenger Ascender mean to Isuzu dealers?
It's not a huge deal because we sell a significantly higher percentage of five-passenger Ascenders. But it is one less thing to sell.
Is it the end of the world?
No, because they represent a small percentage of Ascender sales. But we need more things to sell, not fewer things to sell.
What is selling for Isuzu?
Isuzu has two products: the Ascender and the pickup.
The Ascender is their staple. It's what they sell the most of.
The pickup truck was introduced (last summer), and it is selling pretty nicely.
What new products are on the way?
I'm really not privy to what they have planned.
I would hope that they would continue to work to expand their model lineup either with partnerships with General Motors or with someone else.
To be a viable franchise I think you need to have more than two products.
Your vehicles are rebadged GM vehicles. Do you want your own vehicles?
Two points. Isuzu helped design the (Chevrolet) Colorado pickup for GM. So it's not just a rebadged vehicle. Isuzu actually had a hand in the design.
With regards to Isuzu's own product, they looked at bringing in a Trooper vehicle that would be made in Thailand.
With the modifications required for crash tests, emissions standards, safety and all the different elements - they have a product they're going to build for the rest of the world, but to modify it to meet American standards is too costly.
Whether they have plans to bring in a different type of sport-utility vehicle or design one from the ground up that incorporates those safety features or crash features or emissions standards, I don't know.
I think the first thing they're planning on doing, which would be a huge shot in the arm for us, is to put diesel engines in our vehicles. That would give us something to sell that is not necessarily on the shelf of everybody else.
How do Isuzu dealers stay in business with only two vehicles?
If you look at the average Isuzu dealer, the Isuzu franchise is dualed with something else. You're not talking about a stand-alone Isuzu dealership, typically.
What is the top priority of the dealer council in 2006?
To continue to push Isuzu to bring us more products to sell.
As a group, we need to push them to bring us diesel technology quicker or go to GM or somebody else and partner with them to bring us additional models in segments that we're not competing in.
A smaller sport-utility vehicle is what I think would be a logical fit.
We've got Ascender.
They could come with a smaller sport-utility vehicle, a RAV4 size vehicle and with diesel technology.
What has been your biggest disappointment as dealer council chairman?
The biggest disappointment with regards to Isuzu is that we don't have a complete product line. If you're going to be a viable car make, you need more than two products.
What is the No. 1 thing the factory can do to help dealers?
We need innovative products that are priced competitively. Everybody's got good quality now.
The market is becoming so niche-oriented. The market is not like it used to be. It's sliced so much differently.
Look at how DaimlerChrysler has done a good job of bringing the 300 and the Charger (to market). Those products are interesting, innovative and stylish.
The diesel technology would be a perfect example of that. We're not going to sell 8 million diesel Ascenders, but there is a market for it out there.
What are the dealer council's top concerns?
Keeping dealers who have the franchise committed to and engaged in the franchise. As their volume has decreased, the number of dealers has decreased.
That's what I as dealer council president would like to have Isuzu find ways to do. To be active with it, to not just keep it on the back shelf, but to stock vehicles, to market the product; not just use it as a service point.
They have a group of dealers who are doing that, but they have some that are not engaged and have not embraced all that they can be as an Isuzu dealer.