The American Suzuki Motor Corp. is making a bigger push into the entry-level sport bike market in an effort to boost its retail sales in an unusual selling season.
The manufacturer enters the key spring and summer time with significantly fewer new-year models as it cut production initially when retail sales slowed in late 2008 and again in 2009 when the downturn intensified.
“It’s a difficult decision to make from a company standpoint,” Rod Lopusnak, the national sales manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp., said of production cutbacks Suzuki made last year. “It’s very difficult.”
Suzuki has only six 2010 model-year vehicles, and none in the category that it’s most well known for: sport bikes.
“Our industry is so passionate about new product and technologies and features, and I’m the same way,” Lopusnak said. “But the challenge is you have to look outside of that. What is the right thing for the industry? For the dealers? For Suzuki? Excess inventory is only a bad thing. It’s only going to create more problems.”
To spur retail sales this season, Suzuki has introduced a number of new programs, including:
Significantly lowering the price of its entry-level sport bike model to compete head-to-head with the Kawasaki Ninja 250, one of the highest volume sport bike sellers in recent years;
A transfer program that allows dealers to switch their inventory with other dealers, and in so doing, lowering their floorplan costs.
Offer a retail financing plan on select models that offers 1.99 percent for 60 months.
“We’ve all lived in the past 15 years on excess access to easy financing,” Lopusnak said. “We had the customers — they were coming in through the door. Of course, with the economy and job losses, that has reduced considerably. With that, we’ve got to focus on quality rather than quantity, where dealers have to make sure they’re just not turning product, but being very profitable.”
That’s partly why Suzuki is targeting the entry-level sport bike market. Starting April 1, the OEM will knock $1,500 off the MSRP of its entry-level sport bike, the GS500F, while maintaining dealer profit margin on it.
“That’s the consumer who has to buy a jacket, a helmet, gloves, all of those ancillary products that are important to dealers’ profitability,” Lopusnak said. “So we’re targeting that market to help grow the dealers’ business, to bring new customers in the store and really bring the dealers an incredible value to go out there and be aggressive with.”
Lopusnak notes Suzuki also has adequate inventory of the GS500F, which will retail for $4,399.
Suzuki also recently extended its dealer-to-dealer transfer program, an effort started last fall that encourages an exchange of inventory between dealers.
The program seeks to reward dealers who are looking to get rid of some pieces of their inventory as well as dealers who are receiving the exchanged units. Dealers who ship inventory receive $100 per unit, while the receiving dealer gets $150 per unit. The receiving dealer also gets 90 days of free flooring on the exchanged inventory.
“We’ve transferred thousands of units through our dealers and the sales-through on it has been extremely high,” said Lopusnak, noting the program is now available through May.
As Suzuki works on these efforts this summer, Lopusnak expects a more traditional year in terms of new models in 2011, assuming retail sales show some stability, if not growth.
“Suzuki definitely has some exciting new products coming out for 2011,” he said. “Our first concern, of course, is to get inventory healthy, not only for Suzuki but for our dealers. But we feel very comfortable by the end of summer or early fall, we’ll be releasing information on awesome, industry-leading 2011 product.”
— Neil Pascale