Gene Brown, VP/marketing for Suzuki's U.S. sales arm, says the company charged designers with coming up with a vehicle that evoked an athlete in motion and adheres to the motorcycle/marine/ATV/auto company's "special brand promise: passionate lifestyle for confident explorers."
Brown says the new vehicles have to evince "four key promises: they must be dynamic, authentic, purposeful and offer meaningful real-world capability." He also said that the new design language will be standard on all future Suzukis, starting in 2010, when the production version of the Kizashi launches.
At the New York show, Suzuki actually unveiled three versions of the Kizashi concept: two have been unveiled at previous shows, but the third is a near-production version. Says Brown: "The three concepts reflect our intent to offer a sports sedan to the U.S. market by 2010."
Also changing in 2008 is the ad creative, per Brown. The company for the last two years has featured its motorcycles in its car ads, an explicit effort to use the products it is better known for to boost the image and awareness of its cars. This year, says Brown, the company will back off that approach.
"It won't be critical to use [motorcycles], he says; they won't be prominent in ads." He says motorcycles will appear, however, in ads for the forthcoming Equator mid-sized pickup truck launching later this year, and Suzuki will use its new motorcycle customer database to do direct marketing for the vehicle. "It will be a non-traditional approach," he says. "We don't anticipate doing national TV ads." He says the other vehicles getting focus this year are the SX4 crossover and sedan.
Hiroshi Tsuda, president/COO of the Japanese automaker, said it took the company--entering its centennial this year--35 years to sell 1 million vehicles, and 15 more to reach 2 million vehicles. "Last year we sold nearly 2.4 million vehicles worldwide," he said, adding that by next year, the company expects to produce 3 million vehicles, with growth driven by sales in Europe and Asia--including India, where it has 55% of the car market. While Suzuki is also the leading mini-car company in Japan, it hasn't gained that sort of traction in the U.S., where it is still a niche player better known for bikes.
"Our next great frontier is U.S.," he says, adding that the Kizashi concept evinces a design-centric effort to crack the market. "In the U.S., success has always depended on one thing: exciting and dynamic new automobiles ... The U.S. will play a key role in this transformation of the brand."