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
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.