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Introducing Low-Price 'Samurai' in November : Suzuki to Market Jeep Competitor

August 20, 1985|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

Suzuki of America said Monday that it plans to introduce to the American market in November a low-priced, Jeep-type vehicle that analysts say could cost 25% less than its closest U.S. competitor.

To be called "Samurai," the vehicle will be a joint venture of Japan's Suzuki Motor Co. and U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., the Brea-based U.S. marketing arm of Suzuki motorcycles.

Suzuki officials say the mini off-road vehicle is the forerunner of a full line of cars that the company plans to introduce in the United States within the next three years. Various versions of the Samurai have been made in Japan and sold outside this country for two decades.

Analysts said Suzuki will be the pioneer in the "mini-sport utility" market, a segment in which the domestic companies have announced no plans to compete. The Big Three U.S. auto makers all sell full-size off-road vehicles, and American Motors has long been a major competitor with its Jeep line.

AMC Designing Smaller Jeep

"Suzuki may take away some of our lower-priced business," said Tom Peyton, AMC's assistant manager for the Western region, "but it won't be enough to set us on our ears."

Peyton said AMC is designing a smaller Jeep for introduction next summer, but unlike the Japanese versions, he said, it will not sacrifice power. "Suzuki's is basically more of a toy than a full-range, four-wheel-drive vehicle," he said.

"Ours isn't designed to blow anyone off the road," responded Jim Driver, Suzuki's advertising manager, "but you can cruise in it comfortably at 60." The Suzuki vehicle will be available in both hard top and convertible models, he said.

Suzuki has budgeted $10 million this year to advertise the Samurai in a handful of markets, including California, Georgia and Florida. Driver said the company hopes to sell 10,000 units this year and up to 30,000 units annually by 1987.

Suzuki--which now sells the vehicles in more than 100 countries--is setting up a U.S. dealership network and hopes to have 45 dealers operating by December. The mini models will not be sold at Suzuki motorcycle dealerships. "Remember," Driver said, "we're selling a car, not a motorcycle."

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