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The Isuzu Trooper has come a long way from its humble roots in 1984.

The original macho Trooper, created by the Japanese company for the U.S. market, featured rubber mats and a price tag of $9,000; the 1995 Trooper Limited has leather seats, dual airbags and a price tag that can climb to $40,000.

Guiding the marque through this new order of the '90s is Fritz Kern, senior VP-marketing and service at American Isuzu Motors. It was Mr. Kern who oversaw the review that replaced the former Della Femina, McNamee agency with what is now Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and a year later moved Trooper upmarket, making the lower-priced Rodeo the marque's volume leader. The high recall "lying" Joe Isuzu campaign was dropped and, in '93, Isuzu dropped its car line.

By design, Isuzu's consumers know the products better than the marque; the word "Trooper" is bigger than "Isuzu" on the spare-tire cover hanging off the rear door.

"When you follow our vehicle down the road, we really are flashing the name Trooper more than Isuzu," he says.

As part of Isuzu's overall $80 million ad budget, Trooper gets to its target market through a mix of high-impact media, including 60 seconds on this year's Super Bowl, along with special-interest magazines and direct mail.

Under Mr. Kern, 55, Isuzu has transformed itself from also-ran car seller in the early '80s to the No. 1 Japanese name in the booming sport-utility vehicles category in the '90s.

While SUV sales last year jumped 13% to 1.6 million, Trooper sales leapt 24% to 26,897-on top of a 68% gain in '93. Though Trooper still has only one-tenth the sales of the top SUV, the Ford Explorer, Isuzu's flagship is proving a formidable force-a trouper.

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