Suzuki leverages lawsuit to push its US growth message

BREA, CA: American Suzuki Motor Corporation used a July 8 announcement of a long-standing lawsuit's settlement to effectively push messages about its US growth plans.

BREA, CA: American Suzuki Motor Corporation used a July 8 announcement of a long-standing lawsuit's settlement to effectively push messages about its US growth plans.

A Suzuki executive was able to discuss the company's long-term US objectives with a third of the reporters who contacted the company about the settlement, said Celeste Speier, PR manager with American Suzuki, US arm of Japan-based Suzuki.

The settlement received extensive media coverage, which was then leveraged further.

"I think it did segue way into positive coverage of our growth goals," Speier said. "The fact that we were able to bridge to our growth - we tried to see it as an opportunity."

Suzuki and Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, jointly announced the settlement of a suit Suzuki filed in 1996.

Suzuki has long been upset that Consumer Reports said the Suzuki Samurai, a small SUV it no longer sells, "easily rolls over in turn."

Consumer Reports tested the Samurai in 1988. Suzuki stopped selling Samurais in the US in 1995.

The out-of-court settlement, announced this month, includes clarification of the magazine's message regarding the vehicle.

"CU never intended to state or imply that the Samurai easily rolls over in routine driving conditions," read in part a statement released by Suzuki and Consumers Union.

Both sides agreed to remove references to the suit from their websites; Suzuki had a site dedicated to the controversy called suzukivcu.com.

The two cooperated in releasing word of the settlement, Speier said.

Suzuki had worked with Gladstone International, a Laguna Beach, CA-based PR firm, on communications regarding the lawsuit while it was still underway. Announcement PR was handled in-house with help from the Orange County, CA, office of Paine PR, which has worked with Suzuki for four years, Speier said.

Suzuki has announced a goal of selling 200,000 cars and SUVs in the US by 2007. It sold 39,807 in the first six months of this year, including its highest June sales ever of 7,485 vehicles.

Two completely new models are slated for Suzuki's 2005 US lineup - the Forenza Wagon and a compact called the Reno.

Suzuki wants to position its cars and SUVs as value-packed and fun to drive, Speier said.

It also wants consumers to realize that it makes more than just motorcycles, for which the company is better known.

"More people are becoming aware of Suzuki autos and SUVs," said Speier, who added that the company will continue working with Paine to get key messages to the buying public.

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