Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – U.S. sales of the stylish new Suzuki Kizashi midsize sedan are slow, but that’s by design.

“The car is just barely at dealerships,” Gene Brown, vice president-marketing, says on the sidelines of the 2010 Chicago auto show. “We sold 300 or 400 (units), but there’s only about 500 or 600 out there.”

Suzuki launched sales of the Kizashi in December, but large volumes of the car won’t arrive at its U.S. dealerships until spring. Ward’s data shows Suzuki sold 71 Kizashis in the month and 197 in January.

The December launch was timed to make the Kizashi eligible for various awards, such as the prestigious North American Car of the Year honor, Brown says.

The first Kizashi sold was to a buyer that matched Suzuki’s expected demographic for the car, a young male buyer. “Our very first buyer was a young Army soldier trading in a (Pontiac) G6 stick,” Brown says.

Some members of his family were Suzuki owners and liked their dealer, so the young man went to the dealer intending to buy a used car. “But he saw the Kizashi and fell in love with it,” Brown says, adding it’s difficult to judge at this point if he’s representative of Kizashi owners.

“Usually what happens is you launch a minivan, you’re aiming at young families. And the first person to buy it is a college student who wanted to be able to haul boxes – it never fits your target,” Brown says. “We got lucky, our (first) buyer fit our target very well.”

Suzuki also uses its press conference here to announce its move to social media, with the establishment of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube pages. Brown says many within American Suzuki wanted to launch a social-media effort sooner, but he was reluctant.

“It seemed a lot of companies were doing it without thinking, just so they could say they did it,” Brown says.

“That’s what I wanted to avoid. I wanted to lay out very clearly why we are doing it; how we measure success; (which) is going to be the most effective to achieve those objectives; and what needs to be in place before we launch, so we don’t do all of our learning stubbing our toe as we go.”

Brown says a delayed foray into social media isn’t a critical error because statistically the percentage of heavy users still is small.

Suzuki will measure success in a variety of ways. On Twitter, for instance, Brown says success will be measured by how many times the information Suzuki tweets is re-tweeted.

“If no one’s sharing your online social content, it’s probably not that great,” he says. “The fact you had page visitors, I don’t care.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com