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Suzuki to USA: we're outta here

Editorial Staff

The American Suzuki Corporation is to enter adminnistration (the Americans call it "Chapter 11 Bankruptcy"). It's SUVs and pickups are just not selling enough, despite innovation and quality.

Suzuki's problem is that it - and its vehicles - are just too small for the American market. Saddled with more than USD300 m debt- roughly half of which is owed to its Japanese parent - the company is sinking. But it's motorcycles, ATV and other products are standing up.

In August, American Suzuki Motor Corporation was delighted to announce a 2% year on year increase in sales. Its September sales were less than 2,000 units across six models including the excellent SX4 range which provides, on its own, three models.

The bottom line is that Suzuki don't deliver what America wants: the cars are small but not cheap - although no one makes the same complaint about Volkswagen. They are innovative - their designed replicated a couple of seasons after they launch. But they don't have badge presence despite their quality.

While the original Vitara remains a surfer dude ride of choice, the Grand Vitara is a lumbering SUV with no redeeming features to make it stand out from the pack. The Equator is just another pick up. Actually, it's excellent, ahead of much of the competition. And it's built by Nissan.

The marketing for the Kizashi (who is going to buy a car that they can't say the name of in public without sniggers?) saloon is marketing bollocks gone bonkers - example: "At its debut Suzuki’s Kizashi redefined the traditional performance sedan, moving the Suzuki brand upscale without abandoning Suzuki’s traditional emphasis on content and value. With its wide track the Kizashi enjoys an athletic stance, while its organic sheet metal literally slips through the air. And for the benefit of an urban-centric audience, the Kizashi’s generous greenhouse, precise platform and composed ride supply a safe and secure environment for any cross-town or cross-country journey."

The cars are marketed through (2011) 207 dealerships. The company might have done better to have focussed on California (where small cars are a more appreciated and surfer dudes remember those Vitara days) and other districts where the price/quality balance is more in their favour. To try to treat the USA as a single market is a strategic mistake. It's just too big for a small company.

Where Suzuki is winning is in markets such as Malaysia and Singapore where it is seen as a viable alternative to other small cars and has a cachet as an aspirational brand for those who don't want to waste money on big brands but still want the quality and performance they bring. If it can identify similar markets in the USA, then it might stand a chance.

Or might have done. Seemingly, it's too late now.