Isuzu pushes new SUV

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American Isuzu Motors won't break its $25 million TV and print push for its new Axiom sport utility until April, but consumers will get a glimpse of the new SUV in teaser ads breaking in the February issue of auto enthusiast titles.

The teaser campaign, from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, presents "very clean product shots to let people ask the question `What is this?"' said Gary Tucker, VP-marketing and product planning at Isuzu.

The Axiom launch marks Isuzu's first substantial national TV buy in a year. In calendar 2000, the marketer's primary national presence was in print-because, Mr. Tucker said, Isuzu had no new product introductions last year. Instead, the brand's TV exposure in 2000 came from Isuzu's regional dealer ad groups, backed via co-op dollars from the automaker.

Axiom will come with a standard, six-cylinder engine. It will be priced in the mid-to-high $20,000 range-lower than the Isuzu Trooper and higher than the brand's Rodeo. The target buyer is in his or her late 30s, married with young children, with an annual household income of at least $75,000. Buyers are expected to be split evenly between males and females; Isuzu projects annual sales of 32,000 units.

SMALLER GETS BIGGER

Axiom will compete against Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer XLT, Subaru of America's Outback Sport Wagon and Chrysler Group's Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. The Axiom is 8 inches shorter than Explorer, 10 inches longer than the Subaru and about the same size as the Laredo.

The small SUV category is growing faster than the compact category in which the Ford Explorer competes. Many compact SUV owners are defecting to small SUVs like Toyota Motor Sales USA's RAV4, American Honda Motors' CR-V and Ford's new Escape, said Art Spinella, VP at consultancy CNW Marketing/Research. That Axiom is smaller than the Explorer is fortunate, he said, since more people with small SUVs on their lists will cross-shop the Isuzu.

Despite the number of new SUVs now hitting the market, Mr. Spinella said he believes there's room for Axiom-at least initially. Axiom's design is a plus, he added, since buyers of small SUVs are keen on stylish vehicles.

Isuzu's annual ad budget has fluctuated in recent years. The marketer spent $17 million in measured media during the first eight months of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting. In 1999, it spent $79 million vs. $137 million in 1998.

Mr. Tucker said Isuzu's 2001 ad budget will rise "substantially" vs. 2000, commenting that it would rise "absolutely by at least 10%."

The marketer sold 88,083 vehicles from January through November 2000, a 6.2% percent drop from the prior period, according to Automotive News.

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