The Last Ride for American Suzuki's Auto Business


Photo by William Maley/Cheers & Gears

As predicted by various people in the know, it still came as a surprise.

It was announced on Monday that American Suzuki Motor Corporation would realign their business to concentrate on motorcycles, ATVs and marine power products. The realignment translates into a major sacrifice – the sale of its automobiles.

American Suzuki also announced it will file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection through the federal court in Santa Ana, California. The plan is a part of the case to be presented to the court. American Suzuki cited "low sales volumes," the current lineup, currency exchange issues and the high cost of employing the aspects of a successful automotive operation as reasons to close this division.

The Brea-based importer of motorcycles added automobiles in 1985 with the introduction of the Samurai – the American rebranding of the SJ410 subcompact SUV. The Samurai sold quite well until Consumer Reports came out by calling the rugged little off-roader "unsafe" and prone to roll over. Though sales were impacted on the little Samurai, Suzuki expanded its vehicle lineup in North America.

In the early 1990s, Suzuki had plenty of momentum on its side. The Sidekick, the American name for the Vitara, was an improvement on the Samurai. While it grew in size and offered both hard- and soft-top models, a four-door version was added which became very popular amongst Suzuki models. Though GM used its partnership with Suzuki to introduce the Chevrolet Sprint, Suzuki mirrored the newly branded Geo Metro with its own Swift. The big difference between the two was Suzuki's offering of a 1.3litre four-cylinder engine, while GM offered just the 1.0litre three-cylinder.

By the 2000s, Suzuki struggled to expand its lineup. When Daewoo closed shop in the USA, GM began to purchase its assets to eventually take it over completely. Through its partnership with Suzuki, Daewoos continued to be sold here at Suzuki dealerships. The Reno, Forenza and Verona gave Suzuki larger vehicles to sell to a skeptical crowd. This was augmented by a result of a joint venture with Fiat (again facilitated by GM) – the SX4.

In just a short time, Suzuki was developing its savior for the global market – a mid-sized sports sedan that offered a lot to the consumer. The Kizashi simply had loads of promise. While automotive journalists fell in love with this sporty number, consumers simply walked by it.

American Suzuki stated they would continue to offer service, parts and warranty support for those vehicles running in this country. The next step is to meet with dealers to transition towards being service/parts centers for remaining Suzuki owners.

It is sad to see this end as such. You would hope that Suzuki would introduce the new Swift stateside. The Swift would work as a formidable foe against the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, etc. We will never be able to find out whether that would have been the case. I always had high hopes that the Kizashi would have a good imprint in this country as an alternative to the midsized sports sedan. I am certain there will be remaining Kizashis available for a song.

The same would be said about the SX4 and Grand Vitara. It is strange that the Grand Vit just got a makeover for the 2013 model year. The Equator would be a tough call since it is under agreement by Nissan to sell the American-built mid-sized pickup through Suzuki's channels. It would be helpful to know if Nissan would cleanly break the agreement while American Suzuki focuses away from its automotive business.

Knowing a dealer that sells Suzukis, I feared what kind of impact he would have if this were to happen to him. The other brand he sells is doing well for the dealership, but I wonder what the absence of any new Suzuki models will do for his operation. He is one of two Suzuki dealers left in the Twin Cities.

However, this does not signal the end to Suzuki's global automotive business. It is one of the top brands in India thanks to Maruti. Suzuki does great business with the Swift in most of the markets the subcompact sells. Wherever you go in the Caribbean and the South Pacific, a Suzuki Jimny will be around to take you deep into an island's heartland. Suzuki will continue to sell automobiles in Canada.

With Saab’s departure from this market last year, the last thing we need is another orphan brand on these roads. Having only driven a few Suzukis – some branded by someone else, others were rebranded by Suzuki – my emotional connection with their automobiles may not have been as strong as it should be. I regret that.

My hope would be a stronger fiscal backbone with its motorcycle, ATV and marine power business driving American Suzuki forward from Bankruptcy. As for its automobiles, I can only ask its owners and enthusiasts to do something special to honor their presence stateside for the years to come.

American Suzuki, at least you tried.

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