About 50 Suzuki dealers have accepted buyout offers from the company in the past five months as part of a plan to cut the brand's worst-performing stores.
Struggling American Suzuki Motor Corp. launched the voluntary program in March to encourage low-volume dealerships to close. The brand now has about 300 dealerships, says Gene Brown, the marketing vice president. That's down from 354 in March.
Suzuki says it aimed to trim the number of retail outlets to give survivors a better shot at profits through increased per-store sales. U.S. sales topped 100,000 in 2006 and 2007 but fell to 38,689 in 2009 and are off 48 percent so far this year.
Dealers have been hurting. John Voss, who took the buyout, calls his Suzuki store near Dayton, Ohio, "a nonentity."
Voss says he invested about $250,000 for improvements in his stand-alone store after acquiring the franchise in 2007. But for the past year, he says, he has been selling only four or five new Suzukis a month.
American Suzuki offered poor-performing stores a cash payment and pledged to buy back inventory, parts, special tools and signs from dealerships targeted by the program. Dealerships that participated in the "Suzuki Square" showroom renovation program launched in 2003 were offered $50,000. Stores that did not participate were offered $20,000, Suzuki spokesman Jeff Holland says.