As a group, the 100 dealers that now have a Suzuki Square showroom are generating 30%-35% higher sales, Tom Carney, vice president-sales, says here in a recent interview.

Suzuki estimates that by the end of the year 300 of its 540 U.S. dealers will have converted their showrooms or registered for the upgrade program.

American Suzuki is requiring all new dealers to build Suzuki Square facilities, and existing dealers are being encouraged to undergo the showroom renovation, as well, Carney says.

“Those that had the old dealer (franchise) agreement…we have to encourage them to do it, and the way we encourage them is to show them the numbers,” he says.

The data includes a track record of higher unit sales and profits at Suzuki Square facilities.

While here in the New York/New Jersey area, Carney visited Suzuki dealers, half of which have the newer buildings.

At one dealership, he says, just two new cars per month were being sold before adopting the Suzuki Square model last year.

“This month they’re going to do 50,” he says.

“(The owner renovated) five months ago, and he said, ‘Tom, the reason why (we have higher sales) is now we have a separate facility, we’ve pulled it out from our Kias, and we’ve got a separate sales manager, separate sales people –and they make their livelihood selling Suzukis.’”

Carney says the dealer told him he was against building a new facility when Suzuki Square was announced in 2003 but now is glad he did.

On the other hand, Carney says, another dealer he visited is still on the fence about committing to the Suzuki Square program.

“He’s struggling with it right now, because he doesn’t want to invest the money,” he says. “But when you show him what’s going on, it makes business sense to do it.”

This year in the U.S., Suzuki’s sales are up 40% through March. Carney says the Southern region, which includes Atlanta, is the auto maker’s fastest-growing.

Also, he says Suzuki saw a significant increase, 46%, in its Midwest sales last month.

He theorizes Suzuki Square-style dealerships in the Midwest have been a boon for business.

“Now we are a bona fide franchise in the Midwest, where before it was trailers,” he says of older Suzuki showrooms.

Carney says Suzuki will continue to stress value and lifestyle as leading brand attributes in its advertising.

“Within the way of life, it’s the person who likes to live life to the fullest, who likes to slap the canoe on the SX4, or the Grand Vitara,” he says. “It’s a perfect example of a surfboard vehicle.”

Current Suzuki print ads show the point-of-view of someone who is being active, he says.

One ad shows a close-up of hands gripping a bike’s handlebars, while another focuses in on hands grabbing a kayak paddle.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com