ORLANDO -- Realizing it can't compete against the big players in mid-sized sedans, Suzuki has taken half of its $30 million marketing budget for the crucial Kizashi sedan launch this year and given it to the 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.
Said Greg Chaney of Chacon Suzuki in Dallas and New Braunfels, Texas: "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 launch ad and one focusing on the Kizashi's available all-wheel-drive capability, said Koichi Suzuki, American Suzuki executive vice president.
The Kizashi has been on sale in dribs and drabs since December, but the full-scale launch starts in March.
Suzuki hopes dealers initially will sell 1,000 Kizashis a month, increasing to 2,500 a month 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 a replacement for the departed XL-7 crossover, could be an option. The Kizashi is built in a new plant in Japan with annual capacity of 250,000 units.
The Kizashi is essential for the brand's continued survival. American Suzuki sales once were as high as 100,000 vehicles in 2006 and 2007, but now the brand sells barely 40 percent of that -- and even that number is sliding.
James Morrell, president of Advantage Suzuki in Albany, N.Y., said the brand's recent rebound in residual values allows dealers to re-enter leasing -- which, in Morrell's case, represented 60 percent of his sales.
Suzuki plans to offer a 48-month lease on the Kizashi for about $2,000 down and $219 a month, Koichi Suzuki said.
Still, having a memorable product name helps. Some dealers remain baffled by the naming choice for the sedan, which the company claims means, "Something great is coming."
Said Morrell: "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."