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After an 11-year absence, American Suzuki Motor Corp. returned to national TV in a big way with the weekend introduction of its Grand Vitara mini-sport-utility vehicle.

The marketer's biggest-ever ad push broke on CBS as part of Suzuki's sponsorship of the "Heisman Watch" feature during college football broadcasts -- a new deal for the brand. But most of the buy is cable TV and begins Sept. 21.

Print is starting to break in newsweeklies and USA Today this week, with consumer and auto-enthusiast books being used.


The car marketer will use the all-new vehicle's push, spending $30 million over six months, to relaunch the Suzuki brand, said Lore McKenna, national advertising and public relations manager.

Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America recently relaunched its brand with a $45 million blitz for the newly designed Galant sedan.

Suzuki's new tag, via Asher & Partners, Los Angeles, is "Engineered to fit your life." The agency created three Grand Vitara TV spots and four print ads. In two spots, the moon looks over the vehicle, juxtaposed with running horses, and asks: "Is that a Suzuki?"

A magazine spread mirrors that execution, showing a herd of horses and the SUV with the headline, "Outside: 155 horses running wild. Inside: The only sound is the padded steering wheel sliding through your fingers."

Suzuki is a small U.S. player, selling 29,283 vehicles last year, according to Automotive News. But it expects to reach 40,000 units this year and wants to hit 100,000 by the time fiscal 2001 ends March 31 of that year.

The car marketer spent $9.6 million in measured media last year, up 45.5% from 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


"Small players have a very tough time making any noise out there without spending millions of dollars on advertising and promotions," said John Rettie, founder of an auto consultancy bearing his name.

He said that based on 1997 unit sales, Suzuki is the smallest mass-market car company in the U.S. The new mini-SUV is a "bit more upmarket" than the brand's other value-oriented vehicles, he noted.

General Motors Corp. recently announced it had taken 10% ownership in Suzuki; GM already had a joint venture with the Japanese brand, making Suzuki's smaller four-cylinder Vitara sport-ute and virtual-twin Chevrolet Tracker at a plant in Canada.

The six-cylinder Grand Vitara is exclusive to Suzuki and made in Japan. It succeeds the four-cylinder Sidekick.

Grand Vitara is the only SUV in the mini segment with six cylinders, an advantage over competitors such as Toyota Motor Sales USA's RAV4, said James Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific.

Although Grand Vitara's $17,999 base price makes it competitive in the same price range as RAV4, it may end up competing with the bigger, four-cylinder Jeep Cherokee, starting at around $17,100.

Mr. Hall projected the new vehicle will help the brand increase unit sales, adding that "the advertising is going to make them or break them. Hopefully, it will have resonance with the target audience."

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