Suzuki Quality Most-Improved, But U.S. Sales Way Off

Last Updated Jun 25, 2009 11:51 AM EDT

Suzuki was the most-improved brand in this week's 2009 Initial Quality Study from J.D. Power and Associates.

Suzuki jumped from No. 32 in 2008, near the bottom, to No. 9 in the 2009 IQS survey. A Suzuki spokesman said the Suzuki SX4 did well in IQS. Some of the brand's older models also fell out of the survey, which also helped.

Suzuki could use some good news. Its plans for a renewed run at the U.S. market have run into a brick wall so far this year.

U.S. sales more than tripled for Suzuki in the decade from 1997 to 2007, and the brand has had its sights set on even higher sales. The recent success of breakout brands like Hyundai, Kia and Subaru has served to spur Suzuki on.

Last year's spike in gas prices helped Suzuki, but then gas prices fell again. Suzuki's U.S. sales ultimately fell 16.7 percent for all of 2008, but that was more or less in line with the rest of the market.

This year has been much tougher. So far in 2009, Suzuki's U.S. sales were down 56.4 percent to 20,259 through the end of May, according to AutoData Corp. That was even worse than the U.S. market overall.

The Suzuki brand has hung in there in even darker times, like when Consumer Reports rated the Suzuki Samurai SUV "unacceptable" in 1988, due to alleged tipping during testing. Suzuki sued the magazine and the case was settled in 2004.

Today, with U.S. sales so low, the Suzuki brand needs a hit. In the meantime, a sustained improvement in quality scores will help the Suzuki brand in the long run -- assuming it has a long run ahead of it.