By Joe Delmont, Editor
LAS VEGAS, Nev.— American Suzuki Motor Corp. decided after three years of coast to coast focus groups it didn’t have much equity in its cruiser names. There wasn’t any consistency in their use by consumers and there was a lot of confusion about what all the designations meant.
So, the company decided to make a clean sweep and create an entirely new brand for its cruiser lineup. The new brand, Boulevard, was introduced to dealers and the media at Suzuki’s business meeting here June 13-15.
“More than a line redesign, Suzuki Boulevard represents a whole new cruiser brand designed and manufactured exclusively for the U.S. cruising market,” said Mac Kato, president of Suzuki’s U.S. operations in a prepared statement. “It is not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the most important launches in Suzuki’s 41 years of selling motorcycles in the U.S.”
At the same time, Suzuki introduced a line of Suzuki Boulevard Authentic Accessories. It includes apparel, hard goods and promotional items such as lighters and desk accessories.
The Boulevard bikes will have strong performance characteristics, say Suzuki officials, incorporating the Suzuki DNA developed in its successful GSX-R sportbike platform.
Five Boulevard models will be available this August with more to come next year. They will be designated as the S40, S50, S83, C50 and C90. Suzuki’s big muscle bike, the M50 will come next year, possibly in the first quarter. “This is just the very beginning stages of our product strategy,” said Glenn Hansen, motorcycle and ATV advertising and press relations manager.
The S Class will emphasize style, the C Class, classic and customized bikes, and the M Class will feature muscle bikes.
“The new models coming in 2007/2008 will blow your socks off,” says Mel Harris.
The models will reflect engine size in cubic inches partly to convey the idea that these are American cruisers. Each model segment also will have specific styling cues for easy recognition by consumers, said Rod Lopusnak, ATV and motorcycle marketing manager.
Aside from the new branding, Suzuki officials say they will have an advantage in the largest cruiser segment, the 601cc to 900cc displacement category. “We’re the only manufacturer with a 50 cu.in. ready to go in the biggest segment,” says Hansen. The 50 cu.in. size equals about 819cc. The C50 is roughly equivalent to the 2004 Introducer Volusia that was powered by an 805cc, four-stroke 45 degree V-twin. The 2004 Volusia had an MSRP of $6,699, compared to the $6,799 MSRP of this year’s C50.
Even though there haven’t been a lot of changes in the Suzuki cruisers, that’s OK, says Hansen. “We haven’t changed them a lot, but that was for a reason. There are things people like; we kept the good features. The Volusia is our best seller and one of the best selling Japanese cruisers. We took its strengths and styling and united them. Suddenly, we have a cruiser family.”
Hansen said the Boulevard name “carries the romance and intrigue of the open road; it’s essentially American. It suggests what cruiser enthusiasts want — freedom. And it creates opportunities for creative marketing and advertising.”
Suzuki’s research indicates that its target market for cruisers wants more performance and looks, cruiser styling with comfort and technology, says Hansen.
In doing some 20 focus groups across the country with a variety of customers, Suzuki found that it didn’t have as much equity in its bike names as it thought. “People were talking about the same motorcycle but were using different names,” says Lopusnak. “They didn’t even know it was the same bike.” The problem was especially true among “average” customers as opposed to experienced riders. And that average rider is Suzuki’s target. “That’s a very healthy class (601cc-900cc) for new customers,” he says. “We want people to ask about Boulevard when they walk into a Suzuki dealership.”
Just as Suzuki aggressively attacked the ATV market two years ago, it is now going after the cruiser market. Last year, Suzuki had about 8% of the cruiser market; it’s aiming for 15% by end of 2006, says Lopusnak.
New ATVs include side by side
Suzuki’s new QUV side by side, a rebadged Kawasaki Mule, seemed to be popular with dealers. It should be in showrooms by August and will carry an MSRP of $8,799. “We’ll definitely have our own late next year,” says Lopusnak. “We’re working hard on it; we’ll be looking at different niches, outside the box. That’s the nice thing about the utility market — it means a lot of things to a lot of people.”
One of the big trends in the UTV and ATV markets is specialization, he said. “Everybody’s a little bit different and is talking to a different customer. It just depends on who they are talking to.”
Also introduced this year was the King Quad 700, which is fuel injected and carries an MSRP of $7,199. “It’s the first dual overhead engine in that class,” notes Lopusnak. “That’s were we get the performance.” Three years in development, the King Quad incorporates “every feature that anyone wanted,” he says. “We wanted this to be best in class. It has all the good features from everyone, plus some more.”
Lopusnak also is excited about organizational changes at Suzuki that bring the R&D function closer to the U.S. market. On Jan. 1, 2004, Suzuki split the U.S. automotive, operations and motorcycle/marine divisions. Mac Kato was named president of the powersports group at that time, after having worked as assistant to the president for more than a year. One of his goals was to beef up R&D. “This gives us so much more focus on this division, it’s awesome,” says Lopusnak. psb
Copyright 2004 Powersports Business