Endeavor joins glut of SUVs

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Mitsubishi Motors North America is putting its biggest-ever ad launch behind its 2003 Endeavor as it seeks visibility in a market swamped with sport utility vehicles.

In all, 75 SUV models were introduced last year, and of the 16.8 million vehicles sold in the period, more than a third, or 4.9 million, were SUVs, according to Automotive News. Marketers lavished $585 million in measured-media spending on the 10 best-selling SUV models alone in the first 11 months of 2002, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

And more are on the way. Porsche Cars North America starts selling its first SUV, the Cayenne, in mid-March, backed by ads from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis. This fall, Nissan North America launches its first full-size SUV, the 2004 Pathfinder Armada. Its luxury division, Infiniti, last month rolled out its all-new FX45 with a $40 million campaign touting its sports-car handling and SUV functionality.

Yet despite the mind-numbing number of models and a rash of anti-SUV advertising, Americans do not seem to have lost their taste for SUVs. Bob Schnorbus, director of consultant J.D. Power & Associates, predicts segment sales will rise 17% by 2008, with the bulk of the increase concentrated in luxury and entry-level models.

Denny Clements, group VP-general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus division, estimates luxury SUV sales will jump to 580,000 units by 2005 from 300,000 in 2002 and just some 50,000 in 1997. Lexus began backing its third SUV, the GX 470, with an estimated $35 million effort late last year from Publicis Groupe's Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif.

Mitsubishi Chairman-CEO Pierre Gagnon has big ambitions for the new Endeavor, figuring it will play a major role in lifting Mitsubishi's 2003 sales by 7% over 2002 to 365,000 units. He predicted sales of the midsize SUV will be roughly 60,000 units this year and will rise to 80,000 in 2004.

`for the urban jungle'

Endeavor is Mitsubishi's fourth SUV, and will get an estimated $60 million blitz, topping the marketer's $50 million push for its Galant sedan in 1998. The campaign from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, is due in late March, said Mr. Gagnon, who declined to discuss details beyond saying its SUV is "for the urban jungle."

Unlike Mitsubishi's other recent launches, Endeavor will get several TV spots, all using the same music. An undisclosed European band makes its U.S. debut in the commercials, a tactic that the automaker has used successfully before to generate buzz.

The category is thriving even though it's been under attack from two anti-SUV ad campaigns that received more news coverage than actual broadcast time. Auto experts agree the ads won't slow sales.

But there could be some impact longer-term. PlanetFeedback just released results of its online survey of nearly 1,800 consumers about the anti-SUV ads. The online consumer-insight firm found that 27% of respondents said the campaigns are justified, with highest support from drivers under 25 and over 55 years old. While most SUV owners surveyed are unsympathetic to the negative campaigns, 10% of respondents said they'll rethink their purchase behavior because of the publicity.

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