Suzuki projects 7% surge on brisk sales abroad in ’08

by Hiroko Nakata

Suzuki Motor Corp., the nation’s top minivehicle maker, said Thursday it sold a record 2.38 million vehicles in 2007, up 9 percent from a year earlier, riding strong sales in India and other parts of Asia.

Suzuki said it expects total sales to rise 7 percent to 2.55 million units in calendar 2008.

“We see a bright future in other Asian countries, South America, the Middle East and Africa,” Chairman and CEO Osamu Suzuki told a news conference the same day.

But Suzuki isn’t so optimistic about the domestic market — especially minicars.

The company sold 591,391 minivehicles in Japan in 2007, down 3 percent from the previous year, giving up its longtime lead in the domestic market to Daihatsu Motor Co. for the first time in 35 years.

Late last year, Daihatsu announced that it expected to sell 610,000 minivehicles in Japan in 2007. Suzuki said it expected to sell 591,000 units this year.

“I expect not just sales of minicars, and not just sales of automobiles, but also (overall) consumer sentiment (in Japan) to decline this year,” Suzuki said, citing high oil prices and a stronger yen, which hurts exporters.

Despite brisk sales overseas, Suzuki also said the U.S. subprime mortgage loan problem would hurt sales of motorcycles in the United States.

“Borrowers of the loans are those who move quite easily and have close relations with buyers of motorcycles,” Suzuki said.

In 2007, the company sold 3.25 million motorcycles at home and abroad, up 12 percent from a year earlier. In 2008, it expects to sell 3.6 million.

As for new models, Suzuki said it would launch its new Palette miniwagon Wednesday.