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Car dealer celebrates opening

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published March 9, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - People used oversized wooden scissors to cut an oversized red ribbon to officially open Hernando Suzuki late Thursday afternoon at the new car dealership on State Road 50 just east of the Suncoast Parkway.

Suzuki is a growing company, and the 3-acre auto lot here already is doing brisk business. And this ribbon cutting was no ho-hum ribbon cutting.

There was valet.

There was star fruit on the hors d'oevres spread.

There was an Elvis impersonator with purple shades and a hairy chest.

And there was Koichi Suzuki, the president of the automotive operations of the American Suzuki Motor Corp., a bona fide big shot here in Hernando County.

"I'm pleased to be here," Mr. Suzuki told the crowd of folks dressed in suits in the sun.

"Big celebration," he said.

"Suzuki is an up-and-coming company with the right product at the right time," said Leon Kreisler, the president and chief executive of the Gulfview Automotive Group, which owns Hernando Mitsubishi, Hernando Autoworld, Gulfview Motors in Port Richey and now also Hernando Suzuki.

The scene Thursday was just another of the many little indicators over the past couple of years that Hernando's not so sleepy anymore.

"Growth," said Pat Crowley, the executive director of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce. "I think it's great for the county."

Suzuki started in 1909 in Japan and has been selling vehicles stateside since 1985. The company's North American headquarters are in Brea, Calif., near Los Angeles.

This week, on back-to-back-to-back days, Mr. Suzuki, the president, has been to grand openings of dealerships in Charlotte, N.C., Columbia, S.C., and then Hernando.

He said the company opened the dealership here because its compact, affordable cars that get good gas mileage tend to work well in growing markets with more modest median household incomes and a segment of the population that commutes above-average distances to work. Markets like Hernando.

So far, so good.

The dealership opened Jan. 2.

In January, 70 new Suzukis were sold.

In Feburary, 65 more.

That clip is good for No. 16 in the nation in the year to date. And that's out of about 540 dealerships.

Two of the most popular buys so far: the small SUV called the Grand Vitara that starts at under $20,000 and the Suzuki XL7 SUV that's priced at just under $23,000.

Hank Resling has been the top sales rep on site both months.

"That shows how nice this dealership is," Mr. Suzuki said of the early success, "and how the Suzuki vehicle fits into this county."

Kreisler said it showed something else.

"We're good at what we do," he said. "No. Seriously.

"And remember," he added. "We just started. A lot of people still don't know about us. We will not be satisfied until we become No. 1 in the county."

On Thursday evening, local luminaries, dignitaries, politicians and businesspeople grazed around the tables covered with grapes and strawberries and crinkle-cut carrot chips and Swedish meatballs and pigs in blankets.

The Elvis impersonator was outside singing in the empty service bay as the sun started to set on Hernando.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.