Pitman, Steven to convert Suzuki dealership to Subaru

03/07/2013 5:10 PM

03/07/2013 5:10 PM

Suzuki of Wichita will become Subaru of Wichita on April 1.

That’s according to Brandon Steven and Scott Pitman, who revealed their plans for life after Suzuki on Thursday.

“We’re really excited about that,” said Pitman, operating partner of Suzuki of Wichita who will become operating partner of the Subaru dealership.

In November, American Suzuki Motor Corp. entered bankruptcy reorganization and said it would no longer sell its Japanese parent’s line of cars, trucks and SUVs in the United States. American Suzuki’s reorganization prompted Pitman – whose Suzuki of Wichita dealership has sold the most cars and trucks of any U.S. Suzuki auto dealer for four years running – to search for an alternative new-car franchise.

The plan to convert to Subaru of Wichita means that the Subaru store currently at 1633 N. Rock Road will move to the Suzuki dealership at 11610 E. Kellogg.

Pitman and Steven said they will convert the old Subaru of Wichita facility – and the adjacent Brandon Steven Motors used-car business – to a Super Car Guys used-car operation.

Pitman said the company will continue to provide parts and service for Suzuki owners after Suzuki leaves the U.S. car market.

“Wichita has been so supportive of the Suzuki brand,” he said, adding that “nothing changes” in terms of Suzuki service and parts.

Steven and Pitman were partners in the Suzuki store, the Wichita franchise in which they invested in 2007.

Pitman, as the new partner in the Subaru dealership, said he will retain his ways of doing business as a Suzuki franchise, including having noncommission sales representatives, a no-pressure sales environment and heavy use of social media.

“A lot of the same things you’ve seen from us philosophically, we’ll pick up” at Subaru of Wichita, he said.

Steven, who is also a partner in Eddy’s Toyota and owns Ford of Augusta, said he expects sales of Subarus to increase markedly. That’s due in part to the relocation to a larger lot.

“We can only fit 30 to 40 new Subarus” at the Rock Road location, he said. “We’ve been landlocked since I bought it.”

The Suzuki lot will accommodate more than 200 new Subarus, he said.

Steven said relocation will likely mean a major renovation to the Suzuki building that could take up to 12 months to complete.

Pitman said he aims to be one of the top-selling Subaru dealers in the U.S. Subaru has more than 600 U.S. dealers,

“It’s a top-tier brand that people think of when shopping for a car,” Pitman said of Subaru. “We want to be competitive with the top dealers in the country.”

Pitman said that, between the new-car and used-car dealerships, the company has 100 employees, including sales and parts staff and mechanics.

“We’ve kept everyone,” Steven said. “(Suzuki) employees are either working for our partnership or have transferred over to Eddy’s.”

An industry analyst said that if Pitman and Steven can maintain Suzuki of Wichita’s sales and service culture, their potential for success with Subaru will be greater than what they had with Suzuki.

“If they are a really good dealership, I would suspect with Subaru it would be even more of a winning combination,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com.

Krebs said that Subaru has had four consecutive years of sales growth, that it is a good dealer operator and does a good job of marketing and national advertising that filters down to local dealers.

She said Subaru’s higher-priced product line shouldn’t be a hindrance, either.

“There may be a little different clientele, but it’s a bigger market for them,” Krebs said.

Subaru’s product line ranges from $17,895 for its Impreza sedan to $32,595 for its Tribeca crossover. Suzuki’s last American product line ranged in price from $15,845 for an SX4 sedan to $25,699 for its Equator Crew Cab pickup.

“They still are going to sell more vehicles,” Krebs said.

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