By on July 17, 2012

When the question of whether a Death Watch should be started for Suzuki was first posed here at TTAC in April, there was a lot going on behind the scenes at the stylized “S” brand but not many facts filtering out to the public.

As of today, TTAC’s Death Watch starts for Suzuki’s North American operations. And if you haven’t been following the drama, here’s some background for you…

Once an established niche brand making big deals with GM and high on success, American Suzuki has continually lost dealers since 2005, either due to dealers deciding to leave the brand or Suzuki offering $50,000 buyout packages for proprietors to wind down their operations. More than half of the remaining 246 dealers sell less than five new vehicles a month, which is not surprising considering Suzuki only has four models to choose from in the United States. In Canada, the Equator is no longer offered, so dealers north of the border must rely on the Grand Vitara, SX4, and Kizashi.

The changes aren’t just in the stores. In Brea, California, home of American Suzuki’s HQ, cost-cutting seems to have become the focus instead of a support exercise. Head of marketing, Steve Younan, left the company in January and no replacement has been hired to fill the role. Director of public relations, Jeff Holland, also quietly left Suzuki without a replacement announced. The company ended its agreement with J.D. Power and Associates for consumer satisfaction data with no replacement. Suzuki’s social media presence on Facebook has showed a couple signs of life recently, but the corporate Twitter account, @SuzukiAuto, has been disabled. As for future product, the biggest announcements have been refreshes to the SX4 and Grand Vitara, which are both getting on in years.

American Suzuki President Seiichi Maruyama and chairman Takashi Iwatsuki seem to be gutting the company, like some kind of automotive themed slasher flick.

On the other hand, global Suzuki operations have never been better. Maruti Suzuki in India enjoys significant success while the Suzuki Swift, not available in North America, receives repeated acclaim and accolades from the automotive press and car buying public.

So, is American Suzuki just winding down operations and finalizing their legal obligations before pulling the plug? Or is something larger at play in Brea? Only time will tell. But, it isn’t looking good, folks.

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39 Comments on “Suzuki Death Watch 1: The Prologue...”


  • avatar
    rpol35

    Other than the CVT, I like the Kizashi, it is uniquely different in a world overwrought with Camrys, Accords, Fushions, Sonantas & Malibus. I guess that’s the problem, maybe it is too unique and Suzuki is too much of an odd niche for N.A.

    • 0 avatar

      While the Kizashi may be a good car and all, in my eyes it looks like a VW. So maybe that’s the problem, it’s not distinctive enough to give a struggling brand any recognition.

    • 0 avatar
      donatolla

      I test drove, and nearly purchased a Kizashi. Ultimately, I think that it’s problems are somewhat indicative of the issues Suzuki is facing. They have about 70% of a great car in the Kizashi – AWD and great handling with lots of features. But it is horribly underpowered with an awful CVT, and yet Suzuki wants to call it a sports sedan? I almost wonder whether the parts they got right were completely accidental, or whether they just didn’t have the development funds to go all the way. They can’t possibly be happy with it. Had their arrangement with VW worked out in such a way that the 2.0T and DSG was available, that car would be a real winner.

  • avatar
    Sky_Render

    Ah, the Kizashi. I recall reading a long article in MotorTrend (one clearly paid for by Suzuki) where two Kizashis were driven across Russia. Suzuki was so excited about how well their little all-wheel drive sedans performed that they put an ad in the magazine showing the plucky little car fording a river.

    The problem is, that exact same image was in the actual article, the only difference being a bright-orange tow strap connected to the front it it. The chase vehicles (large 4×4 SUVs) were used to tow the Kizashis across the stream. The Suzukis had their engines OFF and transmissions in NEUTRAL to avoid damage. And, yes, the article actually pointed that out in the text.

  • avatar
    mike978

    It isn`t just in North America that Suzuki is weak. In Europe (looking at Bertel’s recent post) Suzuki sales are down 1.7% and are 81K for the 6 months across the whole of the EU. There is extra cost having to sell that small volume (albeit greater than US volume) across all those countries with their different languages and laws.

    Looks like Suzuki could become an even smaller niche player with just India and Japan as their major markets.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      To be down 1.7% in Europe when there is an overall decline in Europe of over 2% is just following the trend. In North America, overall sales are growing, yet Suzuki is bucking that upward trend with dismal sales. The only brands selling less than Suzuki last month in the US were Jaguar, smart, Bentley, and Maserati. Hell, they got outsold by Porsche…AND Land Rover…AND Lincoln…AND Fiat, which has a single model.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I agree that Suzuki’s decline mirrored the wider European market. My main point was that their volumes were still small and do not have the economies of scale you get in the US with one distribution channel, one language,one marketing/branding exercise. Having to sell in 27 countries with their different customs, languages etc just imposes more costs. I would be surprised if Suzuki mad a profit in Europe.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Suzuki who?

    The only Suzuki vehicle I truly remember is the Samurai, while cool, apparently had an affinity to roll over and play dead – not necessarily on command, either. True or not, I don’t believe they ever recovered 25 years ago.

  • avatar
    MarkP

    Years ago the Sidekick was a pretty decent little 4X4 that got pretty decent mileage. That was a niche they might have been able to exploit, but they wanted to play in the same sandbox with everyone else, and they just haven’t been able to pull that off.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    The local Suzuki dealer is a great place to browse and shop used Chrysler products. I’ve never seen a new car on his lot.

  • avatar

    I hope Suzuki kicks VW’s ass in India!

  • avatar
    replica

    I looked at an SX4 sedan and wagon a few years ago when wife car shopping. The SX4 sedan looked pretty neat in white. Unfortunately, the interior was cheap and it was incredibly slow. So…slow. Like, 4 cylinder Ford Ranger “You’re going to die when getting on the freeway” slow. It also handled pretty poorly. The dealer laughed when I asked for money off the sticker price. I returned his laugh, left and went to Honda.

    Can’t say I’ll miss Suzuki.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I don’t disagree with a Death Watch in light of the evidence of gutting, but I’d just revise the headline to “NORTH AMERICAN Suzuki Death Watch”, as we have a global readership here.

    Don’t worry, Europeans and Indians! Your Swifts and Marutis aren’t going anywhere!

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      For the sake of simplicity, it will be referred to as the “Suzuki Death Watch” because I don’t want to have to go back to all the GM Death Watch posts and change them to “GM minus Holden, possibly GM South Korea, definitely Opel Death Watch”.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        So for the sake of simplicity, you just assume the rest of the world is the same as North America. Pretty much the way most in the US view the world, really. And the reason why Americans are sometimes viewed not too positively when they travel abroad, and why US world policy often makes more enemies than friends.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        Also, philadlj makes a very good argument. Suzuki might die in North America is distinctly different from Suzuki as a company might die. Suzuki might well stopped selling cars in North America, and survive elsewhere. Your argument with regard to the GM death watch posts are not valid either. If GM as a whole dies, do you think Holden and GM South Korea will survive? Unlikely.

        Some generalization and simplification are OK, but in some situation it would be inaccurate. As philadlj said, TTAC has a worldwide audience. If you don’t want to take that into account, maybe you shouldn’t write for TTAC, and find something with more local scope to write for.

      • 0 avatar
        Mark Stevenson

        I should know better than to feed the trolls.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        Sure, just brand us as “trolls”.

        I am dismayed at your brushque attitude toward valid criticism, and thus your commitment toward accurate, quality article. I wonder what would happen if the president only read half the documents he has to sign, “for the sake of simplicity”. Or an inspector only inspect half of the things he’s supposed to inspect, or judges and attorneys not doing due dilligence on the cases they work on, or workers not putting due care to the job he’s doing, “for the sake of simplicity”.

        I’m interested to know others’ opinion about this, especially the people in charge at TTAC.

  • avatar
    Scorch

    Suzuki has historically had great engineering and value, terrible marketing and brand management. I’ve own several of their motorcycles going back to the 1979 GS1000. While other manufacturors were in a race for the ultimate quickest bike, Suzuki made a fast machine that actually handled. Suzuki introduced the world to sport bikes with the GSXR. Their V-Strom continues to be the best all-around motorcycle you can buy for under 15K. I bought a 2003 XL-7 and have 153,000 miles in the Texas heat on it, and aside from a pair of O2 sensors I changed out, zero maintenance issues. Still has the original plugs! I wish I could buy a 2013 XL-7.

    Suzuki can make a comeback, if they could couple Apple-like brand management with their cars.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    If they want to succeed in the US they’re going to need to figure out an identity and sell it.

    I would suggest selling as “What Subaru used to be” to the “Poverty with a view” demographic.

  • avatar

    I can certainly see why Suzuki is on Death Watch. No replacement for the Director of Marketing? No replacement for the PR Director? That can’t be good. However, rumors have been spreading for years that Suzuki is leaving the country, and somehow, they manage to continue on. And while selling just over 20,000 a year doesn’t seem sustainable for a non-specialty automaker, they’re still around … for now.

    I’ve owned a 2009 and 2010 Suzuki SX4, and liked both cars a lot (I still have a 1995 Sidekick 4×4 for my off-road toy). However, I admittedly got gun shy with all the dealers closing down, including one in my neck of the woods. We’re lucky enough to have two Suzuki dealers in my town, but one mostly sells used cars, the other mostly sells Hyundais and Fords. The Suzuki side of that dealership is depressing. Tumbleweed blowing through the “showroom,” which has one car in it, old brochures, and no staff. In talking with one of the Ford/Hyundai/Suzuki sales people (in they Hyundai showroom), he said they hadn’t sold a Suzuki in over a month (this was in April).

    However, I think a lot of this is Suzuki’s fault; no ads, very little PR, not much support for buyers (e.g. dealer network, etc.). I also believe there’s a disconnect with headquarters in Japan.

    Like the TTAC article from yesterday said, “Please Suzuki, we want you back.” That’s how I feel. I love my Sidekick. The SX4 wasn’t a bad car. But where’s the Swift? Where’s the Jimny? Where’s something that sets you apart from the other manufacturers? Where’s that car that says, “I’m proud to be a Suzuki loyalist”?

    And just for the record, the Suzuki Swift is available in Mexico, which is part of North America.

  • avatar
    vlangs

    I thought the kizashi was a sweet little sedan in AWD/6-speed trim. but I don’t think I’d ever buy one. Not for the badge or anything, but because there is one dealer near me and it’s an hour away. They sell about 5 cars a month (though they’re also the largest Dodge/Ram dealer in my area) so it’s only a matter of time before Warranties are no longer offered.

    And then it wouldn’t be a good thing at all

  • avatar
    raded

    Someone at my work recently purchased a brand new SX4. I’m not sure who it is, which is probably a good thing because I want to know why they passed over every other car in the segment and settled on a SX4.

    I would love to see the Suzuki Swift back in the US though.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Same story, next verse. I *really* like the SX4, without 4WD… because I don’t need it. I’d buy one in a heartbeat, if it had *any* other badge on it. I’m hoping the next FIAT model to hit the states is a lot like an SX4.

  • avatar
    Dirty Dingus McGee

    In the Tampa FL area last week, I saw a mid-size pick-up truck with a Suzuki badge and, I believe, the name Equator on the tail gate.

    Didn’t even know they OFFERED a pick-up.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    HMMM…it seems like just yesterday TTAC was doing a Chrysler death watch? Perhaps you are wrong on this death watch, too?

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      I truly hope I am wrong. But, the company itself is almost in a “media blackout” mode where not much information is getting out other than the monthly sales numbers.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    I hope Suzuki stays.
    If for no other reason that we have lost enough brands already and their cars are interesting even if not stellar.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    Hmmm… A lack of tasty products, forgettable advertising, forgotten dealerships…we could have predicted the end of Suzuki’s North America operations long ago.

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    Looking at the global situation, I truly think Suzuki would be smart to consider merging with Mitsubishi and Mazda. Then use the Suzuki (and Suzuki-Maruti) brands where they are strong as stepping stone makes to Mazda, and use Mitsubishi as the ‘eco brand’ while Mazda stays the course as the somewhat sporty brand (and strongest of the 3 in North America). This would involve VW giving up any interests in Suzuki but to be honest, Suzuki and VW’s little fling is really over except for the shouting and dividing up the stuff in the apartment, and deciding who gets the dog and who gets the cat.

  • avatar

    I didn’t even know you could buy Suzukis in KC anymore. When I looked them up online, there’s a dealer I’ve never heard of and the other one has spent more time in front of a judge than Matlock. Not good.


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