American Suzuki Motor Corp. is recruiting dealers after buyouts and departures slashed its dealership roster last year.
Suzuki is targeting dealers in metropolitan areas across the United States, said Chris White, senior manager of dealer development.
About 15 new dealers were appointed in 2010, and 15 others were brought in through buy-sell transactions. White expects more deals as spring approaches.
"I honestly believe that as things thaw out, we'll accelerate" recruiting, he said. "I think we'll be aggressive, and there are a lot of people that are interested in a [Suzuki] franchise right now."
Last year Suzuki tried to rid itself of its worst-performing dealerships, many of which averaged as few as one or two new-vehicle sales per month.
The brand has about 290 dealerships after beginning 2010 with about 350.
About 50 of Suzuki's worst-performing dealers accepted buyout offers between last March and Aug. 1. Suzuki also offered to help poor-performing dealers improve their operations, Suzuki spokesman Jeff Holland said.
Under the buyout program, Suzuki offered owners of poor-performing stores up to $50,000 and pledged to buy back inventory, parts, special tools and signs from dealerships targeted by the program.
"It's about getting the poor-performing dealers out and getting good dealers back in that will help us be successful," White said.
About 100 dealers initially refused the buyout offer. Suzuki continued to shed dealers through the end of 2010 as some dealers voluntarily closed, White said.
"A handful of dealers did it, probably because the market is still difficult and nature took its course," White said.
Suzuki has no specific target for how many dealers it wants to add, White said.
Re-entering U.S. metropolitan markets where it lacks a presence also is a priority. Suzuki has its strongest presence in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, so the company is looking outside those areas. He declined to name specific markets.
White said Suzuki wants dealers with good reputations for customer satisfaction, strong internal processes and, at least in some cases, vacant facilities caused by the wind-downs of such brands as Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn.
Suzuki sales plummeted 38 percent last year to just 23,994 vehicles, while industry sales rose 11 percent.
The brand sells only four nameplates, and its marketing budget has been limited because of its poor sales.