July 23, 2007 – Gauging Suzuki’s UTV interest

LAS VEGAS — American Suzuki Corp. unveiled new quads for the sport and utility segments during its annual dealer show, but did not enter into one of the industry’s fastest-growing arenas: the UTV market.
That figures to change next year.
In an interview with Powersports Business, Suzuki ATV Operations Manager Rod Lopusnak said the company would probably unveil a UTV direction in the next year. The side-by-side would probably be aimed more at the sport side of the market and carry a new brand name.
“I think you’ll see something from us in the next year — at least a direction,” Lopusnak said of Suzuki entering the side-by-side segment. “Whether the product will be 100 percent and ready to go (by next year), I don’t know.”
Lopusnak stressed that Suzuki has not made any final decisions, nor set a timeline.
“We’re not 100 percent set on our strategy,” he said. “We’re really trying to dial that in. We’ve kind of changed our direction internally a few times.”
For now he expects Suzuki, a performance-driven company, will side with entering the sport side of the UTV market.
“But how sporty is it? How utility is it?” Lopusnak said of the possible Suzuki UTV. Those are questions the company is still delving into.
Production of side-by-sides continues to be an issue, something Lopusnak brought up at the September 2006 Suzuki show.
“The facility (in Rome, Ga.,) is not set up strictly for side-by-sides so we would have to make some alterations,” he said.
One issue that Suzuki seemingly has overcome is its concern over the segment’s future growth. In September, Lopusnak wondered whether the segment’s double-digit sales percentage growth would continue, or whether it would peak and flat line once more manufacturers entered the arena.
In the past nine months, Suzuki has done surveys and purchased data on the side-by-side segment.
“It seems to be pretty strong and still continuing” to grow, Lopusnak said, noting there’s no hard data on the market segment.
So with continued strong growth in the UTV arena, why did Suzuki not deliver a side-by-side to dealers for 2008?
Lopusnak pointed to the new Hayabusa, the B-King and the 12 other new or significantly updated products that Suzuki unveiled.
“There’s only so many engineers to go around,” he said. “So we said, ‘Hey, we’re in the motorcycle business. We want to stay a leader in the business.’ That’s why we went and did that. Now hopefully, we can have some engineers really dedicate themselves to side-by-sides because we don’t want to come out with a (so-so) side-by-side. We want it to be really, really good.”
Lopusnak believes that’s the case with the two new quads that Suzuki unveiled to dealers in Las Vegas — the sporty QuadRacer LT-R450 and the more powerful QuadKing 750.
The QuadRacer features increased horsepower and an industry first — the QuadRacer ECM Logic and Ignition Control System that monitors rpm and throttle position.
“If you hit the throttle hard, the tires are going to spin,” Lopusnak said, noting that won’t happen with Suzuki’s ECM programming, which will adjust the engine’s timing to allow the rider to get more traction.
“So if you had two ATVs next to each other doing exactly the same thing, the one with the logic system is going to be farther ahead because they’re getting more power to the ground, making it a more controllable ride,” he said.
The bigger KingQuad, which at 750cc is 50cc higher than the ’07 model, features a 5 percent boost in performance.
“What we really tried to target was from low- to mid-range,” Lopusnak said, noting that the company did not seek to improve the vehicle’s top speed. “We don’t really feel there’s a need (to increase) that.”
Suzuki does not plan on continuing to up the engine displacement size for its largest KingQuad ATV.
“The performance that we get out of the 750 is more than adequate for what everybody uses it for,” Lopusnak said. “But we’ll just have to sit back and watch where the industry goes.”
The company also doesn’t plan on getting into the 2-up market, noting that sales in that segment “are OK, nothing dramatic or insane,” Lopusnak said. “We get a little bit of a call for it, but I don’t get too much.
“We’re not trying to go out and saturate all different areas. We’re trying to pick areas because we know flooring costs, inventory and space is an issue with dealers,” he said, noting Suzuki has even cut down on some of its vehicles’ colors to lessen the flooring burden on dealers.
“All our growth is from picking really good segments that we weren’t competing in and trying to drive competitors’ customers into our dealerships,” Lopusnak said. “We’re going to keep that philosophy.”
— Neil Pascale

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