Sixty Canadian SaturnSaab-Isuzu dealers are bracing themselves to lose the increasingly weak Isuzu leg of their multi-brand franchises, Automotive News reported, adding that General Motors of Canada is reviewing the prospects of the brand it introduced to Canada in 1986.

“We are working with Isuzu and our Canadian marketing teams to essentially assess what the business case is for Isuzu products in Canada going forward,” GM spokesman Richard James told Automotive News, adding: “We haven’t made any final decisions.”

James also told the motor trade newspaper that, if GM eliminates Isuzu, it would not affect the Saturn and Saab line-ups sold by the dealerships involved.

According to Automotive News, GM has no deadline in mind but spokesman James reportedly said: “…obviously the sooner we can make a decision the better it will be for all concerned. It’s taking a little bit longer than anticipated though.”

The newspaper noted that any decision that GM makes in Canada would have no bearing on Isuzu’s US dealers because Isuzu itself distributes its vehicles in that market, not GM.

Last March, the Los Angeles Times reported that American Isuzu Motors would cease US production – at an Indiana factory jointly owned with Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries – of two of its three remaining models next year and that, in 2005 it would begin importing SUVs made in Thailand to help fill the gap.

The LA Times noted that the Cerritos, California-based US import and distribution arm of Isuzu Motors was restructuring in an attempt to find a new place for itself in the North American market.

“There will continue to be an Isuzu in the US,” spokesman Charles Letzgus told the newspaper in March.

The LA Times noted that Isuzu helped start the SUV craze in the US when it introduced the Trooper in the early 1980s but sales dried up as the firm lost marketing and product development support from its ailing Tokyo-based parent.

American Isuzu’s sales reportedly fell 36% last year after a 14% decline in 2001.

James told Automotive News that Isuzu’s restructuring efforts in recent years as well as its shift in focus from a full-line product mix to pickups and SUVs are factors behind the reappraisal of the brand in Canada.

Canadian dealers told the newspaper the shutdown of their Isuzu business had been expected.

“My lot has been empty for 18 months, and I’m just waiting for GM to tell me when to take my signs down,” a dealer in Mississauga, Ontario, who declined to be identified, told Automotive News, adding: “It’s safe to say we’re not going to sell Isuzu here again.”

Automotive News noted that GM began marketing Isuzu products through a single truck centre in Toronto and included the brand in its Passport franchise in 1988. When Passport was dismantled, Isuzu became part of the Saturn-Saab-Isuzu franchise launched in 1991, the paper added.

The Passport name was also used for a rebadged Indiana-built Isuzu Rodeo SUV sold for some years by US Honda dealers.

Automotive News said Isuzu car and truck sales in Canada hit 4,270 in 1990 but fell to 836 by 1995, by which time only trucks were in the line-up. Sales in 2002 totalled just 732 units, and this year, only 17 have been sold to the end of August, the paper added.