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Suzuki sinks even deeper despite assets

While most other American car companies found at least some reason for optimism in the 2010 auto market, American Suzuki Motor Corp. sank even deeper. Yet Suzuki holds some surprising assets in the vehicles it offers.

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For American auto retailers at large, 2010 was a year of modest recovery from the catastrophe that began in 2008, when car sales shriveled. But for American Suzuki Motor Corp., 2010 was yet another disastrous year.

Suzuki closed the annum with a sales drop of 38 percent from 2009 – which had hardly been a banner year for the Japan-based auto company. Suzuki's 12-month sales total was 23,994 vehicles in 2010, compared to 38,695 in 2009.

For perspective, consider that American Honda Motor Co. sold 28,851 Accord Crosstours in 2010, the first full year in which the model was available. That's 5,000 more Crosstours than Suzuki's entire U.S. sales volume. And Crosstour is a model that some people (though not this writer) consider outright weird. Crosstour is essentially on overgrown hatchback. Or maybe it's a crossover wagon with a clipped back. Or maybe it really is just weird.

In any case, you can infer a lot about Suzuki's tenuous position in the United States when you consider that it sells fewer cars in total than a single Honda model that has raised some questions.

Car-biz observers (including this writer) point out that Suzuki desperately needs more dealers. It also needs to raise more public awareness of some of the admirable models it offers. The company's Equator compact pickup has picked up its share of awards from independent assessors. Its all-wheel-drive SX4 Crossover may be the most economical winter fighter available to northern drivers. And Suzuki's year-old Kizashi sport sedan really does stand up against German sport sedans that can cost thousands and even tens of thousands more.

But who knows about them?

The brightest news for Suzuki is that, although its 12-month performance was dismal, the company built some promising momentum as the year closed. During the final quarter of 2010, American Suzuki sales rose 36 percent above the same three-month period in the prior year. In December, Kizashi sales increased 19 percent from the previous month. And in each of the final three months of 2010, Suzuki saw year-over-year sales increases.

The news makes American Suzuki an auto seller to watch for better or worse in 2011

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