Samurai Sales Plunge Sparks Shuffle at American Suzuki

Times Staff Writer

American Suzuki Motor Corp., staggered by a catastrophic decline in Samurai sales and weakness in its other automotive lines, said Monday that its president has been reassigned to corporate headquarters in Japan, and the three top officials of the auto division have resigned.

Kenji Shimizu, chairman of Brea-based American Suzuki since July and a longtime executive and managing director of the Suzuki Motor Co. conglomerate in Japan, will replace Toshiyuki Arai as president of American Suzuki.

Yoshi Fujii, another longtime Suzuki executive from corporate headquarters in Hamamatsu, Japan, has been named to the new position of executive vice president of the American Suzuki automotive division, which markets cars and sports vehicles. Other American Suzuki divisions market motorcycles and such miscellaneous products as outboard motors and snowmobiles.


A company spokeswoman said no replacements have been named for the three U.S. automotive division executives who resigned Monday: Doug Mazza, vice president; John Dorsey, sales director, and Larry Messelt, national sales manager.

Mazza and Dorsey were hired in 1985 to create American Suzuki’s auto division, the same year Suzuki introduced the Samurai.

The Samurai quickly caught on with younger drivers interested in low-cost sports vehicles, and sales soared to 81,349 cars in 1987. But in June, 1988, Consumer Reports magazine criticized the Samurai as being susceptible to rolling over, and sales began to plummet.

Even though a federal study has since concluded that the Samurai is no more prone to rolling over than are similar vehicles, sales slumped to about 50,000 in the first eight months of 1988, and in the first eight months of this year, just 3,399 Samurais have been sold.

Sales of Suzuki’s other vehicles--a line of subcompacts and another sports vehicle introduced within the last year--have also been hurt by the publicity. As of Sept. 1, Suzuki had sold just 21,389 cars and sports utility vehicles in the United States.

In American Samurai’s only statement about the management changes, spokeswoman Laura Segall said the company “has undergone significant changes in the past year.”

“When Mazza and Arai started in 1985, they had only one automobile product, the Samurai, and the goal was to establish a following for and generate sales of the Samurai, which they did,” she said.

“But now Suzuki is in a situation where we have a full line, including the Sidekick and the Swift passenger cars. The complexion of the company has changed, and there are different goals and philosophies on how best to run what essentially is a new company.”

Also Monday, American Suzuki announced its 1990 automobile lineup. The Samurai is being de-emphasized, with fewer models and options being offered. Meanwhile, the Sidekick--a squat version of the Samurai with a lower center of gravity, is being offered in several new configurations. As last year, there will be three models of the Swift.


American Suzuki Motor Corp., based in Brea, reorganized its executive suite Monday amid a continuing sales slump.

Kenji Shimizu

Chairman since July, will assume the additional title of president.

Toshiyuki Arai

Former president, reassigned to corporate headquarters in Japan.

Doug Mazza

Former vice president, one of three automotive division executives who resigned.


Suzuki Sales

NUMBER OF VEHICLES SOLD August August First 8 First 8 * 1988 1989 Months 1988 Months 1989 All models 12,208 3,300 49,756 21,389 Samurai 12,208 193 49,756 3,399 Sidekick 2,376 13,827 Swift GT 601 3,001 Swift GLX 103 838 Swift GA 57 161

*Suzuki sold only the Samurai Jan.-August 1988. Other vehicles were introduced later in the year and in 1989.

Source: American Suzuki Motor Corp.