talked with Rod Lopusnak, ATV operations manager for Suzuki, about his company’s new focus on the ATV market and where he sees the industry going in the future.  Suzuki introduced the industry’s first four-wheeled ATV 25 years ago. What was Suzuki’s biggest innovation to mark the anniversary in 2008?

Lopusnak:  I wouldn’t say there has been one innovation, I think what Suzuki has been trying to do in the last few years is give Suzuki dealers an ATV for every one of their customers. I think that finally, coming into 2008, we’ve been able to do that. Before, certain customers might drive past a Suzuki dealer and go to some of our competitors. You’re not seeing that anymore. Why did Suzuki drop the Eiger line in favor of the KingQuad 400 series for 2008?

Lopusnak: We did that previously with our Boulevard motorcycle line. We did it to further expand our marketing and advertising abilities. KingQuad has got a great name, a huge amount of recognition and a strong brand image so we wanted to continue that. Previously there was only one KingQuad so we expanded that so now we actually have three different KingQuad models, four if you include the automatic and manual version of the 400. We took all the great things about the Eiger in that class and we updated all the things we felt it needed to be a KingQuad, along with the styling and similar features. Where do you see Suzuki’s ATV business heading in the future?

Lopusnak: The key for us is we want to continue to build on that same plan to keep finding those niches where maybe we’re missing some sales for our dealers and continue to build on that. Continue to build top of the line, award-winning ATVs and give the dealers additional profit centers. What is the next logical step in ATV production/technology for the industry?

Lopusnak: Safety is always a huge issue and anything we can do to make ATVs safer is going to be there. That’s the unique and great thing that really propelled the growth of ATVs over the last 10 years, because the specialization has been so key. About 10 to 15 years ago there was one ATV and I think the customer specialized it. Now you’re seeing the manufacturer really specialize them, right down to the color. With fuel consumption an ever-growing concern, how does Suzuki plan to improve the fuel economy of its ATVs?

Lopusnak: We will continue to introduce Suzuki fuel injection. At some point it will be on all our models. With land use for recreational ATVs becoming a bigger concern, how do you think ATV sales will be affected?

Lopusnak: You will see more and more the manufacturers fight to try and promote the areas that are open and help groom them to be better. We will work with the government and continue on education so we have the ability to get out there and ride.

Page 2 How does Suzuki plan to increase its ATV market share to catch up with Honda, Yamaha and Polaris in the United States?

Lopusnak: We’re going to continue with the marketing plan that we have set. We’re doing a good job. Over the last seven years we’ve basically tripled our market share. Our big losses are in areas that we don’t compete in right now. Every year we’ve kind of added a model or maybe some specialization of certain models to go after a specific segment. It’s really worked well for us. For example, last year out of all the major manufacturers we’re the only one that grew—everybody else went backwards. I think that says a lot for our plan. What are the key points of differentiation in Suzuki’s ATV product or branding strategy, compared to some of the other OEMs?

Lopusnak: Everybody has their own brand image that they try to go after. That’s one of the things that we talked about earlier with the KingQuads. We’re not going to have five or six different utility models. We’ve been building over the last few years that everything utility is going to be based on a KingQuad, but there will be different levels of a KingQuad. The same thing goes for the recreational rider—it’s going to be QuadSports. When you get to the more performance-minded guy it’s going to be QuadRacers. Where do you see opportunity for growth for the ATV market? Utility, Sport, or something different entirely?

Lopusnak: Utility is generally very consistent. You might not have that rapid growth in any one area unless you introduce some specific new technology or feature. Otherwise, utility is very consistent. People are finding different ways everyday to use these things, whether it’s golf courses, construction sites, just for recreation and touring, there are just so many different uses. Geographically, is there a new market out there where an ATV boom is possible?

Lopusnak: There are areas in Europe that are definitely becoming more familiar with ATVs and they are using them. We’re seeing turn signals being put on them and they are actually being driven on the road in the Caribbean and some of the European countries now. As UTVs/side-by-side vehicles increase in popularity, how much does this market interest Suzuki?

Lopusnak: Our heritage is definitely on the sports side and we’re looking really closely at it and we have built some prototypes. We’re just not sure if and when we’re going to jump in. We’re going to continue to research that and we’ll make a decision probably in the next year. Do you think the introduction of sportier UTVs will infringe on ATV sales?

Lopusnak: I definitely do, but I don’t think it’s any different than if you introduced another unique ATV with some more specialization. Yes, I think there is going to be some crossover because you are giving people more choices, but it’s no different than if there was a different ATV out there. I really think it’s going to come down to whichever manufacturer specializes the best in the future is going to have the best reward, whether it’s an ATV or a UTV. What developments and technologies have your competitors introduced to the market that you admire?

Lopusnak: There’s not one that I admire specifically, but the great thing is how good all the products have gotten in the last 10 years. That is just a huge benefit to the customer, because they are getting the opportunity to ride the best product that’s ever been made. You’ve got the best dealers now and it’s easy to get financing. The whole aftermarket world right now is as good as it can be for the customer.

And on a Personal Note:

What is your favorite ATV of all time? Definitely the LT125, because it changed everything.

Where is your favorite place to ride? Sport-wise, Pismo Beach or Glamis. For utility, Brimstone in Tennessee.

Your ideal riding partner is? Somebody a little sportier and aggressive.

Related reading: 2008 Suzuki KingQuad 450 Riding with the King 2007 Suzuki Quadracer R450 The King returns for 2007



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