ORLANDO, Fla. -- Realizing it can't compete against bigger rivals in the mid-sized sedan segment, Suzuki will steer half of this year's $30 million marketing budget for the new Kizashi sedan to U.S. dealers, said Kevin Saito, president of American Suzuki Motor Corp.
"The budget for a national launch just wasn't there, and Suzuki listened to the dealer advisory board about redistributing the marketing funds," said Scott Pitman, president of Suzuki of Wichita in Kansas.
The cars have begun arriving in showrooms as the company tries to shake last year's 54 percent U.S. sales plunge, more than double the industry's decline. This year started on a harsher note, as Suzuki dropped 44 percent in January while the market rose 6 percent.
Greg Chaney, of Chacon Suzuki in Dallas and New Braunfels, Texas, said, "On a per-car basis, the spend is significant, but we're selling against manufacturers who sell five and 10 times as many cars as we do. We have to make every dollar count. Each dealer can use the funds as he sees fit, whether it's TV, radio or print."
As for national advertising, Suzuki will have two ads -- a traditional car-launch ad and one focusing on the car's available all-wheel-drive capability, said Koichi Suzuki, American Suzuki executive vice president.
The executives and dealers spoke after the company's annual make meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here.
The company hopes its dealers initially sell 1,000 Kizashis monthly and expand that 2,500 within a year. If Suzuki can generate 5,000 Kizashis a month in global volume, it will consider building either a hybrid or V-6 derivative. After that, using the Kizashi platform for other vehicles, such as replacing the departed XL-7 crossover, could be an option. The Kizashi is built in a new plant in Japan with a 250,000-unit annual capacity.
James Morrell, president of Advantage Suzuki in Albany, N.Y., said Suzuki's recent rebound in residual values allows dealers to re-enter the leasing market, which in Morrell's case represented 60 percent of his sales.
Suzuki plans to have a 48-month lease on the Kizashi for about $2,000 out-of-pocket and $219 a month, Koichi Suzuki said.
Still, having a memorable product name helps. Some dealers are still baffled by the naming choice for the sedan, which the company claims means, "Something great is coming."
Morrell joked, "I still can't pronounce it, but I like it."
But the approval wasn't universal. As one dealer muttered to another as they left the make meeting, "Kizashi? Kizashi? Whatever the hell that is."