Thursday, July 23, 2009

Should Suzuki pack up and leave the U.S.? I say no.

There's been a lot of talk about American Suzuki possibly packing up and leaving. There has been the analyst reports, the 78% drop in sales for June, and a closing of many dealerships nation wide. So what's up?

USA Today reports that Suzuki was hit hard during the sub-prime lending debacle. Certainly most automakers were, especially those selling less expensive vehicles. Then there's the influx of Korean-built, rebadged Daewoo products (Reno, Forenza) that surely weren't top-notch Suzuki products. However, since they are no longer being sold, they have to account for part of that 78% decline in sales compared to June of 2008. On top of that, the XL-7 is being discontinued. That leaves American Suzuki with only a few models to sell:

- SX4 Crossover
- SX4 Sport (sedan)
- Grand Vitara
- Equator (aka Nissan Frontier pickup)

... I'd say of the current lineup, it's a very smart thing to do to pin your hopes on the SX4. The company is slated to release the Kizashi sedan to do battle against the tightly packed mid-sized sedan crowd, which includes the likes of behemoths such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, let alone the Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonota, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat, and probably a few others. Suzuki will definitely have to score big with the Kizashi.

Enough of this stuff, though. Here's what my lowly blogger, automotive junky enthusiast opinion is.

Bring over Suzuki's specialty: Small cars
Suzuki is known worldwide for being an outstanding manufacturer of small cars. That's what American Suzuki started out with, and I think that's what they need to go back to. The market is primed for b-segment, subcompact vehicles in the U.S. MINI, Yaris, xD, Fit, Accent, Versa, Cube, Rio, Fiesta, and others are either out or soon to come to the market. Suzuki specializes in vehicles of this size! The SX4 is a step in the right direction, and does ride on a stretched Swift platform. So now seems like prime time to bring the Swift. However, my brief e-mail exchange with American Suzuki PR did not confirm any timetable for the Swift. They only said the Kizashi was the focus of internal discussion.

Step up the marketing
Suzuki needs to step up the marketing, too. The "Mightier than the MINI" campaign drew attention, if not possibly the wrong kind. Many people are saying, "Who cross shops an SX4 and a MINI," and, "You can't even compare a MINI to an SX4." Hey, at least people are talking. I know advertising costs money, but can American Suzuki afford not to step it up?

Create an image; build the brand
The 800+ horespower Suzuki SX4 driven by Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima just won the entire Pikes Peak International Hillclimb for the fourth year in a row. Where's all the PR about that? This could be the image vehicle that Suzuki needs.

Suzuki needs to brand itself better, too. Sure, they're well known for their motorcycles. However, a lot of Americans still think "Samurai" when they think Suzuki. Hone in on a theme, and work it. Think Volkswagen. Think MINI. Think Scion (well, early Scion).

Now, I'm the first to readmit that I am not an auto-industry analyst, and that I'm on the outside looking in. However, I know that Suzuki is capable of having a lineup as strong as the SX4 across the board. Suzuki is setting sales records in other parts of the world (+25% in India, +42% in France, +20% in Poland, etc.). However, it can't seem to get a foothold (toehold?) in the U.S.

Perhaps it's time for a new game plan in the U.S. Then again, perhaps Suzuki is already several steps ahead of us in planning. I certainly hope so. I love my SX4 and would love to add a Swift to my stable, too.

American Suzuki has been in the States since the mid '80s, and I'd hate to see it go away, especially with products as strong as the SX4, and the Swift. Perhaps Suzuki will be able to capitalize on the Kizashi, and will perhaps bring the Swift over that so many enthusiasts are asking for. I think there is a life for American Suzuki autos in the U.S.; I don't think it will be easy, necessarily. However, at this point, I'd think the small-car route would be worth a try.


rubicon4wheeler said...

Suzuki really needs to bring the Samurai (sold overseas as the Jimny) back to the United States. This is the vehicle that established Suzuki in America, and the market is prime for a small, frugal, affordable, and tough 4x4. While most other SUV manufacturers are abandoning the core 4x4 market with oversized "cute utes" that are nothing more than high-riding AWD station wagons, Suzuki still sells the rough-and-tumble (but heavily updated) solid-axle Jimny overseas. Why not bring it back to the largest 4x4 market in the world? Why not completely own the small 4x4 market again?

"If you build it, they will come..."

Chris said...

Also, they should import over the Suzuki Solio (Wagon R) from Taiwan. This would help them compete with the Scion xBs, along with the new Nissan Cubes and Kia Souls. Although get rid of the 1.3L and up the displacement.

Suzuki's specialty is small cars, bring them over! No more junk like the Daewoo models and that rebadged Nissan Frontier.

Andy Lilienthal said...

I do want to make one thing abundantly clear: I am a believer in Suzuki's products, and want to see them succeed in the States. I think they make some really cool cars (Swift, Wagon R, SX4, Lapin, Jimny), and would love to see more of them in the U.S. I'd hate to see them not succeed here—especially without trying to sell some of their best cars here.

nlpnt said...

+1 on the Swift, Wagon R, Jimny. Something from the kei-segment bumped up to 1.3 or so.
I like the Cervo's styling best of the current Japanese lineup but the A-Star and Ritz from Maruti have promise there too.
Maybe even that fugly Swift sedan if it'll help the sales numbers and is IN ADDITION TO the hatchback.

T.G. said...

I would like Suzuki to bring the Jimny ,the JDM/Euro Swift,and the Alto Lapin over to North America.I agree with R.R. about the Jimny,it would work just fine for those who do not want a Jeep Wrangler.The Swift is cool and would be a hit as a hot hatch.The Lapin is as iconic as a Mini,a Cube,and/or a Fiat 500 and fairly practical too.I say replace the ill-advised Daewoo gap with these puppies.

Anonymous said...

All of the previous comments bring up good points. Here's my take on what they should do:

Swift (hatch)
SX4 (hatch and sedan)
Alto Lapin (I love the Solio, but it won't sell in the USA)
Resurrect the Cara (mid-engine sports car also called the Autozam AZ-1)

In each of them, offer the three engine options:
1.6L turbo
1.6L turbodiesel (they already get these from Fiat)

I think that the 5 cars would fill the niches nicely, and the 3 engine choices would appeal to the normal people, performance people, and the dieselheads (of which I'm one).

Thomas Mosley said...

A diesel Jimny would be awesome. Im game for one.