Planning 100 more dealers, Suzuki gets back on the map It's a logical question for American Suzuki Motor Corp. to ask: The Grand Vitara small sport/utility vehicle has been a big success. Shouldn't an extended version of the same vehicle be an even bigger hit for the Japanese automaker?

The arrival of the Grand Vitara XL-7 for the 2001 model year is one reason Suzuki forecasts its dealer body to balloon from the current 400 to 440 by the end of 2001 and to 500 within two years. That compares to a mere 289 U.S. dealers at the time of the Grand Vitara launch in September 1998.

"The Grand Vitara has been a huge success. It really put us back on the map," says Gary Anderson, vice president of automotive sales for American Suzuki. "It paved the way for the XL-7."

In 2000, American Suzuki exceeded its sales goal of 60,000 units. The company projects 30,000 deliveries of the XL-7 in '01, and total vehicle sales of 81,500 units.

By way of dealer initiatives, American Suzuki has developed with JD Power & Associates a new reporting system to more accurately track customer satisfaction.

"The dealer gets a report every single month on sales satisfaction and the areas he's weak in," Mr. Anderson says. "We can work with the dealer to improve those stores. We're making it clear to our dealers that this is important to us."

The company also created a new department charged with training, testing and certifying sales people. "The dealers have responded positively," he says. "It's such a dramatic difference from where we were three years ago to where we are now."