Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

SAN FRANCISCO – When American Suzuki Motor Corp.’s business was described for an audience of dealers here at the J.D. Power International Automotive Roundtable, the crowd gasped like they’d witnessed a vicious clothesline tackle.

But instead of lying motionless on the field of play, the plucky Japan-based auto maker announces it will air – for the first time – a television ad during a Super Bowl broadcast.

“It is a 30-second spot featuring our new Kizashi midsize sport sedan titled ‘Wicked Weather,’” Suzuki spokesman Shamit Choksey says in a statement.

And demonstrating defiance that would make Mike Ditka blanch, the auto maker also is inviting consumers to rate its ad against all others and vote accordingly on two social media websites – Facebook and YouTube.

Facebook will tally all “Likes” recorded from one hour before Sunday’s kickoff to 9 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 9. The commercial with the most will be declared the most popular.

“The YouTube contest’s ‘Views’ tabulation begins immediately following the Super Bowl and folks can vote on the commercials up until Monday, Feb. 14 at midnight EST,” Choksey says, adding the top five finishers will be announced the following day when their spots also will be featured on the YouTube home page.

Suzuki’s ad shows an all-wheel-drive Kizashi evading a hoard of angry snowmen.

Based on the dealers’ reaction to the state of the brand in the U.S., some might say Suzuki doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of surviving the winter. But Jeff Schuster, executive director-global forecasting J.D. Power and Associates, doesn’t go that far.

“They’re under a lot pressure,” Schuster tells Ward’s during a break in the event, a sort of pre-game show for the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention being held here.

“The brand needs a better-defined image,” he adds, noting the Kizashi is a significant first step.

Launched in model-year ’10, the Kizashi has helped Suzuki realize sales gains.

The brand’s January car deliveries totaled 1,918 units, for a 41.1% increase over like-2009, a jump primarily due to 743 incremental Kizashi deliveries, according to Ward’s data.

Over the last three months, the differential was 2,270 units, which boosted Suzuki car sales 61.5% over same-period 2009.

But the car’s performance was not strong enough to spare Suzuki from a full-year plunge of 38% in 2010, compared with prior-year.

The auto maker’s Super Bowl ad was produced by California-based Siltanen & Partners Advertising, the same agency responsible for an acclaimed Nissan spot that featured Barbie and G.I. Joe lookalikes and a toy car.

For ’11, Suzuki restyles the Kizashi’s exterior with a more muscular front fascia and upgrades the interior by offering a unique sport steering wheel and contrasting stitching on models with leather seats.

emayne@wardsauto.com