By on August 7, 2012

While a number of automakers have been complicit (and still are) when it comes to badge engineering, Suzuki in North America has been on the forefront of whoring out or johning platforms since its introduction in the 80s. The ‘Japanese brand that could’ has either slapped the stylized S on Daewoos and Nissans or let GM have their dirty ways with the grilles of small Suzuki cars and SUVs.

Almost every car company has, for better or worse, built vehicles with other OEMs to maximize economies of scale. Subaru and Saab tied the knot for a short-lived marriage. Mazda and Ford used to grab Korean econoboxes from Kia. But, Suzuki has been in a league of its own. Almost every vehicle Suzuki has built has been with a partner or ‘badgineered’ in some way or another.

This is by far not a definitive list, only highlighting vehicles which were available in the US and Canada (if we included all Suzuki models, I would be writing this post into next year), so please feel free to add anything I’ve missed in the comments.

Suzuki Samurai (Suzuki SJ30/SJ40/SJ410, second generation Jimny)
Aliases: Chevrolet Samurai, Holden Drover, Suzuki Caribbean, Suzuki Katana, Suzuki Potohar, Suzuki SJ410, Suzuki Samurai, Suzuki Santana, Suzuki Sierra, Maruti Gypsy

When Suzuki first entered into a product sharing agreement with GM in 1981, this is the vehicle that started the badgineering activities. While it never donned a bowtie in North America, the Suzuki Samurai was sold in Australia as the Holden Drover and in other markets as the Chevrolet Samurai. In Spain, manufacturing was run by Santana, producing the Suzuki Santana, a relationship that ended in failure and left many Santana owners without warranties. To this day, the Samurai is still manufactured in India and Pakistan and is popular in off-road circles. But, a Consumer Reports investigation into the Samurai’s instability in corners where the vehicle would easily roll over killed sales of the mini utility in North America, culminating in a lawsuit between the consumer watchdog and Suzuki which was settled in 2004.

Suzuki Forsa (first generation Suzuki Cultus)
Aliases: Suzuki SA-310, Suzuki Forsa, Chevrolet Sprint, Pontiac Firefly (Canada), Geo Metro, Holden Barina (Australia)
Years: 1985-1988

While not Suzuki and GM’s first badgineering effort, it was the first to reach North American shores after the two companies decided to tie up in 1981. Initially offered only in a 3-door hatchback body style, multiple variants – including a turbo model – were introduced over three years. It was eventually replaced by a new generation Suzuki Cultus.

Suzuki Swift (second generation Suzuki Cultus)
Aliases:  Suzuki Cultus Esteem, Geo Metro, Pontiac Firefly, Maruti Suzuki 1000/Esteem, Holden Barina, Chevrolet Swift (Colombia, Ecuador), Suzuki Forsa II (Ecuador), Chevrolet Sprint (Canada), Subaru Justy (Europe), Suzuki Amenity [hatchback] (Indonesia), Suzuki Esteem [sedan] (Indonesia), Chang’an SC7130 Gazelle, Suzuki Margalla (Pakistan)
Years: 1988-1994 (in most markets)

After capitalizing on an amazing entrance to the North American market, Suzuki and GM decided to build the next Cultus – badged locally as the Swift, Metro, Sprint, and Firefly – in Ingersoll, Ontario’s CAMI alongside the Suzuki Sidekick. While base models had a thumper 3-cylinder heart producing an anaemic 54 hp from an engine with half the displacement of a large bottle of Coke, a hot GTi model was available with 100hp and disc brakes. The second generation Cultus is coveted by hypermilers for its amazing mileage and stupid-simple  ‘fix it with a rubber band and paper clip’ engineering. Currently built in Pakistan and China, this generation Cultus could become the new Beetle of Asia if production continues.

Author Note: My family owned a Pontiac Firefly when I still wasn’t tall enough to see over the roof. The tiny little tires dug through east coast snow and slush like my fat dog chews through freshly stolen apple pie. Never once did it get stuck. Never once did it break down. But, your mileage may vary.

Suzuki Sidekick (first generation Suzuki Escudo)
AliasesAsüna Sunrunner, Chevrolet Tracker, Chevrolet Vitara, Geo Tracker, GMC Tracker, Mazda Proceed Levante, Pontiac Sunrunner, Santana 300/ 350, Suzuki Vitara
Years: 1989-1999 (in most markets)

The Sidekick, as it was mainly known as in North American markets, was probably the worst offender of badgineering at General Motors. It arrived on the scene just as GM was developing its ‘captive import’ brands and the Sidekick was such a popular model all dealers wanted a piece of the action. Out of GM’s core brands, the only ones not to get a version of the Sidekick were Buick and Cadillac. In Japan, it was even built for Mazda and sold as the Proceed Levante. While not as rugged as the Samurai, the Sidekick did offer a proper transfer case on 4×4 models and is still popular with the off-road crowd. The first generation Sidekick also underpinned the X-90 cute ‘ute, though its failure was predetermined before it hit dealer lots.

Author note: We have a history of Suzuki Sidekick ownership in my family.

Suzuki Swift (third generation Suzuki Cultus)
Aliases: Geo Metro, Chevrolet Metro, Pontiac Firefly, Chang’an Antelope
Years: 1995-2001

The third generation Suzuki Swift differed greatly from the Japanese market Suzuki Swift. The platform, a modified version of the second generation Cultus bones, was used only for the North American market. It is worth noting examples of this generation would regularly return 40mpg and have commanded high prices on the used market in recent years.

Suzuki Esteem (Suzuki Cultus Crescent)
Aliases: Chevrolet Cassia, Suzuki Esteem, Suzuki Cultus, Suzuki Baleno, Maruti Baleno, Maruti Baleno Altura (station wagon)
Years: 1996-2001

The North American market Esteem was the true successor to the 2nd generation Cultus/Swift. Growing considerably in size over the outgoing model, the Esteem didn’t see the same success in the North American market as the 3rd generation Swift/Metro. Most running gear was carried over from the 2nd generation Cultus and, due to lack of popularity, was replaced by the Suzuki Aerio.

Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara/XL7 (second generation Suzuki Escudo)
Aliases: Chevrolet Tracker, Chevrolet Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Grand Vitara XL7
Years: 1999-2005 (in most markets)

The second generation Escudo became the basis for many Vitara and Tracker vehicles throughout the Americas. Powered by a range of 4-cylinder and V6 engines, the vehicles continued to prove popular, through not as popular with off-roaders as previous models. The new model was more refined while retaining its body on frame construction. The XL7, a lengthened Grand Vitara with an enlarged 2.7 V6, was once the cheapest 7-seater SUV in North America and was available with a manual transmission unlike its competitors. This generation was replaced in 2005 by a Theta-based Vitara, sharing components with the Chevrolet Equinox, but it still retained its FR layout.

Suzuki Reno/Forenza (first generation Daewoo Lacetti)
Aliases: Too many to mention
Years: 2004-2008 (as Suzukis in the US)

After GM, along with partners Suzuki and SIAC, purchased Daewoo in 2001, the Japanese brand entered the dark years of rebadging Daewoos as their own product for the North American market. In Canada, the Lacetti was sold as the Chevrolet Optra and Optra5. The Reno/Forenza, on top of being unfortunately named, never took hold in the market due to dated styling, cheap materials, and bad fuel economy versus other vehicles in the class (and some vehicles in larger classes).

Suzuki Verona (Daewoo Magnus)
Aliases: Chevrolet Epica, Chevrolet Evanda, Daewoo Evanda, Formosa Magnus
Years: 2004-2006 (as a Suzuki in the US)

Also a product of GM’s purchase of Daewoo, the Suzuki Verona was sold in the continental US while the Chevrolet Epica was offered on GM dealer lots in Canada. Easily the ugliest mid-size sedan on offer between 2004 and 2006, the Daewoo Magnus used an outdated 2.5L V6 producing 155hp. It was outsold by almost everything else on the market. When it was discontinued, it left a gaping hole in Suzuki’s lineup for a mid-size sedan until the introduction of the Suzuki Kizashi in 2009.

Suzuki SX4
Aliases: Fiat Sedici
Years: 2006-present

The arrival of the SX4 was a welcomed sight, replacing the oddball Suzuki Aerio as the compact car offering in North America. While never badge-engineered in the western world, the SX4 was developed in concert with Fiat who sells the SX4 was the Sedici in European countries and markets it as a “mini utility” due to its available AWD. The current model, while getting long in the tooth, is expected to receive a facelift later this year and possibly be replaced for the 2014 model year.

Suzuki Equator (Nissan Frontier)
Years: 2008-present

After the switch to unibody construction for the Grand Vitara, Suzuki had a need for a body-on-frame vehicle to fill the need for people needing the extra durability. In 2008, Suzuki introduced the Equator after a three-concept unveil at the Chicago Auto Show. In order to bring a pickup to market in the United States and avoid the “chicken tax”, Suzuki contracted with Nissan to build the truck based on the Nissan Frontier. The pickup, nothing more than a Frontier sporting a different grille and headlights, has never set the sales charts on fire. In June 2012, the Equator only outsold two other pickups in the US market – the Cadillac Escalade EXT and discontinued Dodge Dakota – and sales were so bad in Canada the model was discontinued in 2010.

And here comes the trivia…

How many vehicles did Suzuki sell in North America that were not badge engineered? Take your chance in the comments!

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31 Comments on “Suzuki Death Watch 4: Badge-Engineering Redux...”


  • avatar
    NN

    I can only count two; X-90 and Aerio.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    It’s no coincidence that their final descent into automotive oblivion began with their association with Daewoo, that same company that GM is gambling on to make them a world-class producer of small, reliable cars, good luck there, GM

  • avatar

    Kizashi and Aerio.

    Let’s not forget that on a global scale, however, Suzuki is quite popular. So, the rebranding for different markets apparently works nearly everywhere else other than North America.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      I’d add another model to that list..

      • 0 avatar

        Kizashi, Aerio, and Samurai (Samurai wasn’t sold as anything else in North America that I can think of). Or I suppose you could count the current 2006+ Grand Vitara.

      • 0 avatar
        Mark Stevenson

        You nailed it with the 2006+ GV. The Samurai was sold around the world under different badges and only slightly modified. The GV, though it is based on the Theta architecture of the Equinox, is so different that calling it badge engineering wouldn’t do it justice. It is so different from the Equinox in almost every way.

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      But Suzuki didn’t rebrand anything in the places where they were successful. We don’t have a single Daewoo-branded Suzuki here in Indonesia. Not sure about India, but I don’t think so either. Not in Japan either, in fact it’s their own Kei cars that were rebranded by other automakers. You could say Daewoo is what brings Suzuki down in America. Why would you associate your (formerly) good names with an inferior brand?

      • 0 avatar
        Mark Stevenson

        Because GM and Suzuki, along with SAIC, bought Daewoo and needed to capitalize on the investment early on. It was purely a financial decision and I am sure the product planners felt they were in the dog house trying to sort options out for the Lacetti.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Saw my first Suzuki Equator ever last Saturday. I had a pickup behind me and I saw the “S” in the grill. I had to do an internet search to find out what it was.

  • avatar
    92golf

    Minor niggling detail – the Suzuki Verona/Chevrolet Epica had a very unusual inline-6 turned sideways driving the front wheels.

    As for the question – I would venture the Aerio and the Kizashi.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    The Geo Metro was a nasty little tin egg, but they were tough, reliable, and got amazing fuel economy.

    @Volt230

    I’d say that GM is doing just fine with the former Daewoo, judging by the Cruze, Sonic, and Spark. Not exciting cars, but decent, and selling quite well.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan Akerson's Last Remaining Brain Cell

      Both the Cruze and Sonic have niggling problems. Long-term reliability/durability is a big unknown at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      MusicMachine

      As an owner of one of those ‘nasty little tin eggs’, I have to agree: tough, reliable, amazing fuel economy, and CHEEP PARTS. We are a family of four this car is a daily driver. 186k mi, AC works, original EVERYTHING (cept radio & speakers).

  • avatar

    I don’t get what you are trying to imply here. For a company to create a vehicle that is badge engineered by other people into their own model its an indication that its a well engineered vehicle. To take a Daewoo and slap a Suzuki badge on it is an indication that Suzuki can’t make it on its own. So all the early vehicles that were Suzuki’s first then rebadged by others would indicate Suzuki did a good job with them. The later vehicles would indicate Suzuki had lost that ability. Is that what you are trying to say because its not coming across in the article.

    I would suggest that Suzuki is only in trouble in North America where it has little name recognition due to little marketing. Their line up of compacts, sub-compacts and kei cars are just not what is traditionally popular here.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      Bottom line, the Daewoo models were rubbish. From day one, they felt like well used rental cars.

      The only implication I am trying to make is Suzuki’s product in North America has mostly been dictated from Detroit from the day they entered the American automotive market. You folks can draw your own conclusions, no matter how right or wrong, beyond that.

      • 0 avatar
        righteousball

        But would Suzuki have had those products (namely the Escudo & the Cultus) without a tie-up with GM in the first place?

        At least that’s my understanding of why they came into existence.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        “But would Suzuki have had those products (namely the Escudo & the Cultus) without a tie-up with GM in the first place?”

        Yeah, that’s my theory, too. Without GM, Suzuki just doesn’t have the means to remain viable in some markets (mainly the US) and the root cause of why they’ll be gone in a few years (if that long).

        I think Isuzu was somewhat in the same boat.

      • 0 avatar
        Mark Stevenson

        They would have still had the products (the Sidekick and Cultus were engineered in-house) but they may not have seen the boon of success they did in the 80s & 90s in North America.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    VEHICLES? or CARS? Because I can’t think of ANY “cars” outside of the Aerio. Frankly, Suzuki is a car-fail, and they need to stick with motorbikes.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7??

  • avatar
    marauder_pilot

    The Samauri was sold as both the Chevrolet Tracker and GMC Tracker in Canada, since Geo wasn’t sold up here. If you look closely in the Great White North, you can still find some floating around.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    I don’t think Suzuki cares. North America is like a secondary market for them, they are the number one car in India, Japan…If they stopped selling cars in North America altogether, I wonder if it would really matter

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    @ Mark Stevenson
    you keep on writing here & in other articles that the last generation Suzuki XL7 (2007) was a Theta-based Vitara, sharing components with the Chevrolet Equinox, but it still retained its FR layout.
    No. It is not a Front Engine / Rear wheel drive. It can’t be.

    The last base XL7 was a FWD/AWD not RWD/AWD.
    Grand Vitara & old XL-7 (upto 2006) RWD/4WD

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      You got me on that. Totally didn’t look at the newest XL7. And it should totally be on this list as it is more a lengthened Equinox than a lengthened Grand Vitara.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Seems like this Suzuki Death Watch series is a bit of a personal vendetta, Mark. There is no point to this article that I can ascertain. That said, I was insulted by a Dartmouth Suzuki salesman myself for having the temerity to ask just what kind of AWD the Aerio had.

    That loud-mouthed boor pretty much summed up my feelings about the brand. Useless.

    Time to move on and think about more pleasant things. Your blood pressure will thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      I wouldn’t call it a personal vendetta. More so a personal mission to make them better than they are. The point of this article was just to highlight the amount of cooperation between Suzuki and other OEMs over the years.

      As far as Dartmouth Suzuki (Metro Suzuki), we’ve had dealings with them. Incredibly, they are the only Suzuki dealer left in Nova Scotia after MacDonald Suzuki in Sydney closed their doors. And whole pushy, loud-mouthed salesmen are the bane of my existence, they are not exclusive to Suzuki dealerships.

      One interesting tidbit: Metro Suzuki and Metro Mitsubishi are owned by the same person. Supposedly, the owner had someone lined up to take over the Mitsu dealer earlier this year but the buyer got cold feet. I kind of pity the owner as he is now the dealer for the two least popular brands in Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        “I kind of pity the owner as he is now the dealer for the two least popular brands in Canada”.

        Not only in Canada…

        Europe, Mexico, Australia… Mitsubishi is out of product.

        At least the Outlander Sports move some metal.

  • avatar
    TruthyToothy

    Suzuki sells rebadged cars here by agreement with other car makers which then get the lucrative opportunity to sell rebadged Suzuki made cars in Japan. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kei_car

    So as the original NY Times review of the Equator pointed out, you get a better warranty and so buy the Suzuki. I don’t know why the rebadging is such a crime. You get a better deal, just live with it.


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