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Samurai Sales Off 70.6 Percent in June From Year Earlier

July 7, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Suzuki Samurai collided head-on with bad publicity in June as allegations that it was prone to roll over contributed to a 70.6 percent drop in sales from a year earlier.

Consumers Union, the group that blasted the Samurai, said the drop was a ″good sign″ if it was the result of the group’s report alleging that the boxy, jeep-like vehicle was dangerous in certain situations.

American Suzuki Motor Corp. said Wednesday it sold 2,199 Samurais in June, the least since December 1985, which was the month after the vehicle’s U.S. introduction.

Suzuki sold 7,479 Samurais in June 1987 and 6,074 in May of this year, when concerns about the Suzuki already had begun to spread through the buying public.

Suzuki has maintained the Consumers Union tests were biased and inaccurate, but dealers said potential buyers were unnerved by dramatic television news clips of the vehicle tilting over during driving tests.

Suzuki said it was not surprised by the decline, expected sales to increase in coming months, and remained absolutely confident of the Samurai’s safety.

Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, has said Suzuki should recall the vehicle and give refunds to owners.

Asked for comment on the sales figures, Consumers Union spokesman David Berliner said, ″If it is a reflection in any way of the public giving credence to our findings, then I think that is a good sign.″

Consumers Union said June 2 that the Samurai tends to roll over when the driver swerves sharply back and forth to avoid an accident. The Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based group gave the vehicle its first ″not acceptable″ rating in 10 years.

Suzuki is not planning on withdrawing the Samurai from the market in response to the poor June sales, said Rob Cahn, a representative of the company’s public relations agency, Rogers & Associates. He said that has been the company’s position from the beginning.

For the first six months of 1988, Samurai sales were down to 31,221 from 42,912 a year earlier, according to American Suzuki, the Brea, Calif.-based subsidiary of Japan’s Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd.

″It’s impossible to tell whether Samurai can pull out of this or not,″ said Ronald Glanz, an analyst for Montgomery Securities Inc. in San Francisco, who said the vehicle’s reputation already was in question before the Consumers Union report.

″I think Suzuki will keep protesting that the product is safe and then shift production over to the Sidekick,″ a bigger, more stable vehicle that is scheduled to be introduced next spring, Glanz said.

The Samurai, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, has a high center of gravity, a narrow tread width, a short wheelbase and relatively light weight. Consumers Union said that combination made the vehicle inherently flawed, but Suzuki said the design was sound and cited statistics showing the Samurai had a good safety record.

The Samurai passed the ordinary Consumers Union test. It flunked only when the consumer organization altered the obstacle course to make it more challenging.

The Samurai gained a reputation as a fun car, popular with young people, and became a best-seller almost immediately after its introduction in the United States. It took some business away from larger and more expensive cousins, such as the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee and Isuzu Trooper II.

But sales already had begun to slow down from their torrid 1987 pace earlier this year, partly because of allegations by the Center for Auto Safety about the Samurai’s propensity to roll over.

Sales of the Jeep Wrangler, the Samurai’s closest competitor, jumped 46 percent to 4,848 in June from 3,318 in June 1987. The Wrangler’s sales were up 8.5 percent from 4,469 in May of this year.

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