Saturday, November 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Ramblings - Suzuki Canada's Golden Opportunity


Suzuki of America recently announced that it will no longer sell passenger vehicles, focusing instead on its more successful motorcycle, recreational vehicle, and outboard motor product lines.

Immediately afterwards, Suzuki Canada released a statement asserting that it would continue with business as usual in Canada. (See the Star's coverage of that news here.)

Given some of the relative crap that Suzuki sold in the States (see below) - which did not precisely mirror what was sold here - and Americans' general disdain for smaller vehicles in general, Suzuki USA's weak sales aren't really all that surprising.

Part of the blame lies with General Motors. GM used to have a good-sized stake in Suzuki, and numerous Suzuki products were sold in both the U.S. and Canada wearing various GM badges, particularly from the mid-eighties to the late nineties. The Chevy Sprint? A Suzuki Forsa. Geo Metro? Suzuki Swift. Chevy/GMC/Geo Tracker? Suzuki (Grand) Vitara.

GM's CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario was originally a joint-venture, building Metros and Trackers, eventually returning the favour with an expanded version of the Chevy Equinox being sold as the Suzuki XL7. Well, sold by the dozen, anyway.

The Suzuki/GM relationship soured somewhat when General Motors bought ailing Korean automaker Daewoo in 2001, giving the General ready access to a newly redesigned generation of compact and subcompact cars built in a relatively low labour-cost country. In the U.S., doubtless with GM's influence, Suzuki ended up shilling several Daewoo products as their own; versions of the Daewoo Lacetti, sold in Canada as the Chevy Optra and Optra5, became the Suzuki Forenza and Reno, while our Chevy Epica (actually Daewoo's flagship, the Leganza) was their Verona.

Worse yet - in an insult to everyone - the Chevy Aveo (sold in both countries; it was the four door version of the Daewoo Kalos) became Canada's Suzuki Swift+. I'm guessing the "+" was to differentiate it from the vastly superior "nonplussed" Swift sold in the rest of the world.

(From the "where did that come from?" department, Suzuki also briefly sold a version of the Tennessee-made Nissan Frontier as the Equator. Available on both sides of the 49th, it was a good truck, but not an obvious fit for Suzuki's product portfolio. Confused buyers stayed away in droves.)


European-spec Suzuki Swift Sport
GM's financial troubles eventually resulted in GM selling most of its stake in Suzuki, which has since gone on to form a co-operative agreement with Volkswagen. Maybe VW was flattered by the startling resemblance between Suzuki's Kizashi and the 2006 Jetta.

While the loss of car and truck sales in the U.S. may be detrimental to Suzuki on the whole (or maybe not, if it was losing money doing it, as this pull-out suggests), this could well prove to be a golden opportunity for Suzuki Canada. Previously, Suzuki's American operations would have had an overpowering influence on product-planning decisions. Now Suzuki Canada is effectively master of its own destiny, at least within the confines of what its Japanese parent allows. Rather than try and move upmarket, as they did with the coolly received (but actually quite respectable) Kizashi, they should play to their strengths.

The Canadian market is much more Euro-centric, particularly in Quebec. We like smaller cars than our southern cousins. Suzuki's specialty is building small cars profitably, to the point where they build or license small cars globally for brands as diverse as Fiat, Subaru, and Nissan. They make small, we like small - sounds like a good match.

European-spec Suzuki Swift (special edition model)

I'd suggest that Suzuki Canada's first move be to bring in the real Swift, and do it, well, swiftly. There's a four door version of the two door hatch seen in the above photos that's nearly as good-looking, and from all accounts that I've read, it's a really nice car to drive too.

So c'mon, Suzuki Canada, bring on the Swift. And don't forget to market it.

(You might want to try offering all-wheel drive in the sedan version of the SX4, instead of just in the hatch, while you're at it - and again, this time actually promote the feature, Subaru-style. I'm just saying, I think that would work...)

To find out more about the Swift, and to see some of the models Suzuki offers in the rest of the world, check out their global website here.

2 comments:

  1. The Equator was meant to come to Canada, but never did. I remember going on a press trip to the U.S. for the Mitsubishi Raider, which was a rebadged version of the Dodge Dakota. Great event, but the truck never made it north of the border.

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  2. I recall seeing the Equator on Suzuki Canada's website, noting that it came in fewer colours than the US version, and if memory serves, only one of the Frontier's several cab/box configurations. I was unaware that Suzuki never actually sold any here, but I'm not surprised.

    Mitsubishi flew me to L.A. and allowed me to drive their hand-built Sport Truck Concept (the design study for the Raider), presumably as a interest builder to their launching the production Raider in Canada later on, however that one - as you correctly point out - never made it to Canada. No loss, as the generation of Dakota that it was based on wasn't a big seller either, and Dodge had a lot more sales outlets and (truck) brand recognition on their side.

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