TOKYO -- Suzuki Motor Corp.'s tumbling U.S. sales may have bottomed out after a two-year free-fall. But CEO Osamu Suzuki isn't losing any sleep over U.S. sales.
The 80-year-old patriarch, who also holds the titles of chairman and COO, says the future of his company lies in Asia, not North America.
"Our strategy centers around small cars," Suzuki said after announcing an 18 percent surge in global net income for the fiscal first half ended Sept. 30. "I think we should focus on Asia."
Suzuki sold 2,043 units in the United States last month, up 17 percent from a year ago. That was the first monthly sales increase since August 2008. Suzuki's 10-month tally for 2010 is 19,015 vehicles, down 46 percent from the year before.
North America is a backwater for Suzuki. It was the only region with an operating loss in the fiscal first half and racked up the lowest sales by far.
Suzuki suffers from a small, four-vehicle lineup and weak brand image. It also has no U.S. factory to help soften the blow of foreign exchange rates. Suzuki sold its half of the CAMI factory in Ingersoll, Ontario, to General Motors Co. in June 2009.
"It would be different if we could make cars locally only for the U.S. market," Suzuki said. "But in the current situation, it is extremely difficult to export cars from Japan."
Indeed, Suzuki delayed the U.S. introduction of the latest generation of its Swift compact because the yen's surge in value against the dollar made it untenable to sell the Japan-made car.
This year's launch of the Kizashi, a mid-sized sedan developed in part for the U.S. market, has done little to slow the downward spiral. Suzuki now is redirecting its Kizashi sales efforts into India.
Some industry watchers expect the company to pull out of the United States, following Isuzu Motors Ltd., the last Japanese automaker to do so.
When asked if the company ever considered quitting, Suzuki said pulling out of the United States would be difficult but did not flatly deny the possibility. He quickly shifted the conversation to motorbikes.
"In the United States, they may think you are not a carmaker unless you sell cars," Suzuki said. "But we are selling motorbikes, too, and have to consider our overall sales."