NEW YORK – American Suzuki Motor Corp., with its sights set on 120,000 annual sales this year, 200,000 next year and 300,000 by 2010, is increasing its staffing levels proportionate to those goals.

“From the direction we’re going in, to 200,000 sales, one person cannot do it all,” Tom Carney, vice president-sales, says in an interview here.

Carney recently gave up his title of vice president-marketing to Gene Brown, formerly of Nissan North America Inc.

Carney says American Suzuki began discussions about adding a separate person to head up marketing last year and that the role was not especially created for Brown.

“Kia, Hyundai, Honda – they all have separate (marketing) divisions,” he says. “We didn’t. It all fell under one bucket, and the size and scope of the U.S. market is massive.”

With Brown not only looking after marketing but also public relations, Carney says he now can focus on sales operations, distribution and dealer promotions.

Brown tells Ward's while he is proud of his time at Nissan, where he most recently was model line manager-pickups, he sees benefits in working for a smaller company.

“I think it can be (advantageous),” he says, as smaller firms typically have greater speed and flexibility when it comes to the decision-making process.

The auto maker also recently hired Chuck Halper as vice president-quality and service. Halper has a long history of such positions, having most recently worked for Mitsubishi Motors North America and Hyundai Motor America in quality and service capacities.

“That’s another position that we were very lean in, and we really didn’t have the expertise Chuck can bring us,” says Carney. “We had him on a consultant basis for three months, and that’s really a great place for guys like that. They step in; they look at what’s going on with the organization; they make recommendations.”

One of Halper’s suggestions was to increase the number of technical field staff. Carney says, historically, Suzuki vehicles rarely have technical problems and the company only has been selling about 40,000 cars annually, so there was no need for someone to oversee quality and service.

Now that Halper is full-time executive with Suzuki, he “can really see where we’re going,” Carney says. “Just like Hyundai (Motor America) went from 100,000 to 500,000 (annual U.S. sales), we need people…who can see where we are right now, knowing we’re going to go to 200,000 or 300,000,” and what that means for the organization.

“It will collapse on itself unless you have the sales and service reputation in place.”

Additionally, Suzuki has hired more district managers, and Carney says there are a variety of positions yet to fill.

“We’re increasing department by department,” he says. “We’re increasing our headcount to support the sales growth, no doubt about it.”

Not only are resumes coming from employees at beleaguered General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., but also from Nissan North America – which is moving its headquarters from Southern California to Tennessee, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

“There’s a glut of (good automotive workers available), no doubt,” Carney says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com