American Suzuki is going to offer free gasoline to people who buy its vehicles this summer. Déjà vu? Yes, if you remember 2008, when gasoline was $4 a gallon, several automakers offered gasoline debit cards: Chrysler offered $2.99 per gallon for three years, but several non-auto companies did the same.
Suzuki's "Free Gas for Summer" promo gives buyers three months of free gasoline with the purchase of a 2010 model Kizashi, SX4 SportBack, SX4 Sport sedan, SX4 Crossover, Grand Vitara and/or Equator.
The company says people who buy one of the above vehicles will get a debit card ranging in value from $280 to $442. The automaker will promote the program with giveaways on its Facebook site and on Twitter. The company is also promoting via dealership materials.
Suzuki has just begun selling its Kizashi sedan, intended to compete against mid-sized cars, and some analysts see the car as something of a Hail Mary pass -- a make-or-break vehicle for the U.S. market. In the first quarter this year, Suzuki posted sales of 5,661 vehicles, including 2,246 vehicles in March. Of that 397 of those were Kizashis. Suzuki has about 350 dealerships in the U.S.
Dan Gorrell, president of Tustin, Calif.-based Gorrell Group, says the automaker is in a difficult position because of its lack of traction in the U.S. market. "They have been selling to buyers in the past who have left the new-car market in the last year and a half. Which makes it difficult for them," he says. "And they don't have dealership representation."
He says, however, that Suzuki has an opportunity, as the Kizashi has been very well received and represents the kind of product Suzuki needs to turn the company around. "But it would need to be supported with marketing investment. Not investing in that makes it increasingly difficult," he says. "Kizashi is a surprisingly good product for a key segment of the market, but they just need to get the word out and that's tough because they aren't spending on advertising."
Gorrell thinks the gas pitch has a chance since "the group that they have appealed to in the past has been budget-conscious and it may be an incentive to those folks suffering from the recession. I think incentives like free gas may be a meaningful perk."