Isuzu to Cut U.S. Vehicle Production

Times Staff Writer

American Isuzu Motors Inc., the struggling maker of sport utility vehicles, said Monday that U.S. production of two of its three remaining models would cease next year and that in 2005 it would begin importing SUVs made in Thailand to help fill the gap.

The Cerritos-based U.S. import and distribution arm of Japan's Isuzu Motors Ltd. is restructuring in an attempt to find a new place for itself in the North American market and said details of the plan would be announced April 17.

"There will continue to be an Isuzu in the U.S.," spokesman Charles Letzgus said Monday.

Isuzu, an affiliate of General Motors Corp., helped start the SUV craze in the U.S. when it introduced the Trooper in the early 1980s.

But sales have dried up as the firm has lost marketing and product development support from its ailing Tokyo-based parent. American Isuzu's sales fell 36% last year after a 14% decline in 2001.

As part of its cost-cutting effort, Isuzu in January sold its 49% stake in a joint-venture vehicle manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Ind., to former partner Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru passenger car unit.

Isuzu's Rodeo and Axiom models are built at the Indiana plant and the company contracted with Subaru for continued production until the end of the 2004 model run.

"The last vehicles will be built there sometime in the summer of 2004," Letzgus said.

Production will continue on Isuzu's third U.S. model, the Ascender SUV, which is made by GM. The Ascender model now being sold at Isuzu dealers is a re-badged seven-passenger GMC Envoy XL, and at the New York Auto Show next month Isuzu will announce that it will begin selling the shorter, five-passenger version as well.

In addition, Isuzu said in 2005 it would begin importing a new SUV to be built at its Thailand factory.

The company has not disclosed design and other information about the new SUV, which will be built on a mid-size pickup truck platform.

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