Siltanen's first real shot at a major automotive client came in 2007 when he persuaded Hyundai Motor America boss Steve Wilhite to let his agency do some work on spec.
"The product was terrific, but the brand was terrible," said Siltanen. "Their advertising said, 'We're not crap anymore.' They were looking backward, not forward, and tainted a whole new generation of buyers who didn't know Hyundai had ever made bad cars."
Siltanen's unsolicited pitch showing Hyundai as a smart buy, not a cheap buy, was enough to compel the automaker to conduct an agency review.
But Siltanen's attempt to become agency of record fell short against much larger firms. Still, Hyundai aired Siltanen's creative work during the agency transition in the spring of 2007. And, indeed, sales increased for the first time in 18 months.
"Getting a car account was a much harder task than I ever thought," Siltanen said. "I guess I was pretty naive. But we could not break in. We wrote endless letters. And there were countless phone calls not returned, particularly from Detroit. There were brands I thought we could help."
The Hyundai work was enough to attract the attention of Suzuki marketing boss Gene Brown, who gave Siltanen some project work. The attraction was that good work could persuade Suzuki's Japanese bosses to release agency Dentsu America from its contract.
Siltanen won the account, and its "Live Large, Drive Small" campaign for the SX4 and Grand Vitara -- launched amid soaring gasoline prices in 2008 -- boosted Suzuki's recognition and Web traffic considerably.
Two years ago, Suzuki's U.S. ad budget was $150 million. The recession has shrunk that considerably, which worries Siltanen.
"What they were spending was enough so that we could have made a dent and grown with it," he said. "I liked that they were small and aggressive and receptive to the work. Now is the time to make a difference. Hyundai and Subaru have done it. I'd like to put our foot on the gas."
In two months, Suzuki launches the Kizashi. It is pitched as a mid-sized sedan but actually fits between the Toyota Corolla and Camry in size.
Suzuki has held back much of its advertising budget to put its full weight behind the launch. That hasn't exactly pleased dealers struggling with a 54.9 percent year-to-date sales skid.
But Siltanen is confident the Kizashi will be the turnaround car, just like Altima and Xterra were for Nissan.
As for the launch budget, Siltanen said, "These days, $30 million is nothing." But he said the Kizashi could have a huge impact on the brand.
"This isn't like half the cars I've had to launch before," he said. "This is like the Xterra. I don't believe in the halo effect of a great sports car like the Acura NSX. It doesn't have enough rub.
"But when a sedan nails it, that goes across to the SUVs and small cars. When you get the mid-sized car right, you can get everything else."
From there, Siltanen wants to expand the Suzuki name for vehicles -- including motorcycles, ATVs, scooters and boat engines -- the way the Nike brand propelled its reach beyond running shoes.
The working tag line: "Adventure-ready equipment."
"I see great potential for these guys and want to get more people to believe," Siltanen said. "All we need to do is shine a light and it can be successful. This could really change the world for Suzuki."