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Samurai Sales Rocketed To Record Level In August

September 3, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ U.S. sales of the Suzuki Samurai rocketed to a record in August, probably exceeding 10,000 and shaking off any damage from a Consumers Union claim that the vehicle tips over too easily.

The surprising turnaround appears to be the result of a generous dealer incentive program and fading public concern about the rollover issue.

Sales will not be officially reported until Tuesday, but Douglas Mazza, general manager of Suzuki’s automotive division, said Friday he hoped the total would exceed 10,000.

″It will clearly be a record for our company, which is impressive for 80 to 90 days from when our accuser first came at us,″ Mazza said.

Sales plummeted 70.6 percent in June to 2,199 after the June 2 report by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The group said the vehicle’s center of gravity was too high, making it too likely to tip over when the driver swerved sharply.

American Suzuki produced its own tests and statistical evidence to back its claim that the Samurai was safe, and on July 13 announced $2,000 incentives to dealers that made it possible for dealers to slash 25 percent from the Samurai’s $7,995 base price.

Sales of the four-wheel-drive vehicle rose to 6,327 in July, about average.

Sales from Aug. 1 through Friday, which is the end of the latest reporting period, will smash the record of 8,365 set in July 1987, said Laura Segall, of the public relations firm of Rogers & Associates, Suzuki’s public relations agency.

The dealer incentive program ended Friday, and the company and its competitors will be watching closely to see whether the sales momentum continues.

Suzuki had been counting on a rebound in Samurai sales to create a good atmosphere for the introduction this fall of two new vehicles: a bigger, more powerful, more expensive sport-utility vehicle named the Sidekick, and a passenger car named the Swift.

The Sidekick is scheduled to be introduced this month. The Swift will be introduced in October in a two-door hatchback version and in November in a four-door hatchback.

The Samurai received a boost on Thursday when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration turned down petitions to investigate and recall the vehicle, contending that it is no more dangerous than similar vehicles made by other companies.

The agency did grant a petition by Consumers Union requesting that it start a rule-making procedure to establish a minimum standard for vehicles to protect against rollovers.

The Transportation Department agency said it had found 113 reported rollovers involving the Samurai and related vehicles made by Suzuki, which involved 25 deaths and 120 injuries. But the agency attributed many of the rollovers to unsafe driving, drinking and unfamiliarity with the vehicles.

The federal agency said the Samurai was involved in about six rollovers per 100,000 cars in which the rollovers weren’t caused by crashes. That was about one-third the rollover rate of the Ford Bronco II, half the rate of the Jeep Cherokee and about equal to the rate of the Chevy S10 Blazer, the agency said.

American Suzuki, based in Brea, Calif., is the U.S. arm of Japan’s Suzuki Motor Co.

Update hourly