While it isn't likely Suzuki car dealers will start selling motorcycles or boat engines, the parent company is hoping an evolving effort will help leverage the identity of the three brands into one cohesive Suzuki image.
One problem is that it's not that unusual for people who are familiar with Suzuki's motorcycles to be unaware they sell cars or for their marine customers to be unfamiliar with the other divisions. The people who buy their popular Grand Vitara sport/utility vehicles might not realize the company also makes boat engines.
Considering that the company has been in the U.S. for decades and has a significant share in the marine and motorcycle divisions - it can only help its dealers if they gain from the exposure.
The automaker's fiery new president, Rick Suzuki, has said he wants to bring the company from its current 0.3 percent of the auto market all the way up to a full 1%. Since he's a member of the corporate family, he's been able to get more interest in what's going on in the United States.
"Rick makes a call and people listen," says one observer.
He'll need a lot of attention to take the automaker from 49,000 to 200,000 units.
One key, will be new product. The automaker is to debut a larger SUV - dubbed the XL-7 - and will make other efforts to beef up its lineup. But in the meantime, they need more buyers to understand that there is a big picture to the smaller pieces.
So the Asian company has decided to borrow a page from Honda's playbook and leverage its three different brands together for greater visibility.
Honda has run corporate advertising that shows its lawn mowers, motorcycles and other equipment together to help demonstrate both the breadth of its lineup and, more subtly, its wide array of U.S.-made products.
Suzuki isn't trying to wrap its divisions in the American flag, although it does build many of its products in the U.S. and Canada, but it does want to bring its divisions together. Honda didn't take the step of combining its marketing, which Suzuki says it hopes will allow it to get even more leverage from the synergies.
The evidence of the new focus should show up in Suzuki advertising and in other venues this fall after the company finishes combining the marketing efforts for the three divisions.
American Suzuki in Brea, CA, already has quietly combined the marketing functions for the three divisions and hired Richard Chang & Associates to suggest the ideal organizational structure for executing the new brand marketing.
In the past, the three companies marketed as completely independent units. So far, the automaker also has combined its advertising for auto and motorcycle/ATVs but hasn't made any changes with its marine agency.
Details are still to be worked out, but it's already clear the three units will cooperate on the marine division's Suzuki Great Outdoors program on ESPN and Ducks Unlimited programs in Tennessee and Wisconsin, none of which has included auto products. It's also possible the marine and motorcycle units will join Suzuki auto's Heisman sponsorship, sources say.
The strategy will be introduced at a marine dealer meeting in August, bike dealer meeting in September and auto dealer meeting in November.
"Our marketing will be both physically and spiritually combined," a source says.
The move, echoing rival Honda's leveraging of its car, motorcycle and small-engine divisions, will allow Suzuki to capitalize on awareness that is stronger for motorcycles (25% U.S. share) and marine engines (7- 8%) than for cars and trucks (0.3%).
The automaker already displays motorcycles and marine products at its auto show displays and while it isn't expected to officially start marketing any of the products at their sister retail divisions, such as displaying motorcycles in the auto showrooms, it wouldn't be surprising to see dealers do some of that on their own.
If nothing else, it will be less likely that the three divisions conduct any activities that don't involve other products where it makes sense.
Jeff Green is senior reporter/Detroit bureau chief for Brandweek Magazine. He's at 248-680-8446 and [email protected]