By on November 6, 2012

American Suzuki Motor Corp may have gone bust, but Suzuki cars will continue to be sold in Canada, where the SX4, Kizashi and Grand Vitara are still offered (but not the Equator pickup).

Suzuki Canada’s Bill Porter confirmed to The Globe and Mail that Suzuki cars would continue to be sold here, despite the U.S. shuttering their operations. Suzuki Canada is independent of the American Suzuki Motors, the Globe quotes Mr. Porter as saying the Suzuki’s vehicles play better in Canada than the United States.

Mid-sized vehicles represent a bigger segment of the U.S. market than the Canadian market, which, because of higher gas prices than the United States, is more skewed to the smaller vehicles Suzuki produces.

“The product mix is very different,” Mr. Porter said in a telephone interview. “We’ll continue to operate in the usual manner.”

Now that Canada will go it alone with Suzuki sales, it’s worth looking at a snapshot of the brand, and where it stands in the Canadian market.

The SX4 remains a best-seller for Suzuki Canada, outselling the Ford Flex, Buick Regal and Honda Fit in 2011. The Grand Vitara outsold the Hyundai Genesis, Acura TSX and Mazda MX-5. While the Kizashi is a non-entity in Canada, the all-wheel drive vehicles  do have a following due to Canada’s climate.

While Canadians love smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, Suzuki products are neither cheap nor particular miserly when it comes to fuel consumption. The Grand Vitara range starts at $26,995, $1,000 more than a Subaru Forester (Subaru being one of the most popular imports in the Canadian North) and Subaru’s dealer network and reputation and undoubtedly superior to Suzuki. AWD variants of the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V are $1-$2,000 more on average, and Canadian buyers clearly have no problem paying the difference. The AWD Grand Vitara gets about 20 mpg combined, while a Forester gets 23 mpg and a CR-V manages 25 mpg combined.

The all-wheel drive SX4 is billed as “Canada’s most-affordable crossover”, and at $20,795, it’s $100 cheaper than a poverty-spec Impreza, which is as much a “crossover” as the SX4. A front-drive sedan SX4 can be had for $15,495, cheap for Canada, but still pricier than a base model Kia Rio. Fuel economy for the AWD versions is around 25 mpg combined, while the Impreza manages between 28 and 30 mpg. The Rio, even with its newly adjusted rating, manages 32 mpg.

The big question mark, naturally, is future product. Canadian and U.S. divisions are often given identical product due to the cost of certifying them for sale in North America, the near identical certification standards and the overlapping tastes of Canadian consumers. But without America to worry about, Suzuki Canada has a good shot of offering some very compelling product to Canadian consumers.

Vehicles like the Swift, which has been universally acclaimed by the automotive media in Europe, would be a good start. The Hungarian-built Swift is immune from being hamstrung by a high yen, and looks fresh and attractive. Presumably, its build quality and driving dynamics are enough to win it praise from notoriously fickle European outlets, and Suzuki doesn’t have to worry about its hatchback-only body style or diesel powertrains – Canadians are much more receptive to these configurations than American consumers. The gasoline engines will likely need to be upgraded, as a 1.2L 96 horsepower gasoline engine is inadequate for our roads, but the Swift Sport’s 1.6L 136 horsepower engine will do just fine.

Whether Suzuki brings smaller cars to Canada is up in the air. The auto journalist in me wants to say yes, while the business-minded skeptic side leads toward no. However, Suzuki has previously displayed the Ignis subcompact and even the Wagon R kei car at Canadian auto shows in the past. Mitsubishi is bringing the Mirage to Canada, while Chevrolet is already selling to Spark here, but both are built in low-cost countries (Thailand and India respectively), while the Alto is built in either Japan or India – and Indian exports seem unlikely at this time. We emailed Suzuki about this (at an admittedly late hour) and are awaiting their comment.

While Suzuki sales were down nearly 40 percent last year compared to 2010, they’ve been slowly crawling back; sales were up one percent year-to-date in 2012, though nowhere near previous levels. Suzuki sold 5625 cars in 2011, down from a recent high of over 13,000 cars in 2008. But in the last four years, the quality of new vehicles on sale in Canada has risen markedly. The Hyundais, Kias and even domestic cars of 2008 have come so far in 4 years that Suzuki will have to make a serious effort product-wise to gain traction in the marketplace. The good news is that Canadian consumers are more open-minded to type of vehicles that Suzuki sells, and they’ve yet to abandon Suzuki wholesale. The company’s decision to stick with Canada should be applauded. Hopefully they get what they need product-wise to see it through.



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13 Comments on “Suzuki Autos, Alive And Well In Canada...”

  • avatar

    The problem is that the dealership network loss is happening in Canada, too. Peterborough just lost one (Del Mastro Suzuki, from same family as the PM’s secretary and my local MP, much to my shame) and I believe there’s been closures west of the GTA as well.

    This is in stark contrast to, eg, Mazda: they’re also a Canadian success story, but unlike Suzuki (and, to a lesser degree, Mitsubishi) their dealers do very, very well. The product mix helps—Mazda sells a lot of 2s, 3s and 5s; Suzuki sells the SX-4 but Grand Vitaras are getting thin on the ground and I see more Mercedes R-Classes than Kizashis—but without dealers it’s a moot point.

    Keep in mind that it’s not just Mazda or Subaru they’re up against, but the big boys, too. There’s not much of a wedge Suzuki can insert itself into: you can get a good microcar from GM and Toyota, or step up to a subcompact (which everyone sells), while GM (the Orlando), Kia (Rondo) and Mazda make small MPVs that do well.

    Unless any new offerings are heads-and-shoulders above the rest (and frankly, they’re not) Suzuki is circling the drain in Canada.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, their old product lineup (and American-centric newer product) isn’t especially helpful. If people want a sedan, they go buy anything else that has a better reputation, is simply a better product, better resale value, or better value period. My mother was interested in a used Kizashi, and it was unexceptional value in comparison to the more mainstream options that prevented any movement in that regard. Its only when a person’s needs to stray towards unusual, such as a small car and AWD, or a truck-like SUV, that people look towards Suzuki. If it can keep making headway on niche products it can make headway in the mainstream through the same means as Subaru has, arguably.

      But that dealer network, yikes.

    • 0 avatar
      dash riprock

      I believe they have 60 dealers with 4,200 sales ytd. The average dealer sells 80ish new cars per year. The dealer margin on their line up is probaly less than $1,500 per unit sold. Unless they have a healthy used business, Suzuki dealerships must be marginally profitable at best. It must only be a matter of years before suzuki leaves due to lack of product or distribution.

      Too bad really, they were reliable little cars and suv’s for the people I knew who had them. My parents live in Ireland and a neighbour has a SX4 as shown. I always thought it should do well, much beter looking than the versa, yaris, aveo

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Is that a photo of the current Swift? Looks quite good; better than econoboxes from other Japanese makers. Pity.

    • 0 avatar

      Swift would have saved them, while adding a very useful athletic hatch to the boring US market. They must use the same marketing dept as Mitsubishi. Pathetic!

      Dead brand walking in Canada as well…

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I agree, there is no way Suzuki can survive in Canada. Suzuki isn’t a high priced premium brand, it competes in the volume market segments, but isn’t doing much volume. Only a matter of time before they leave Canada as well as the US.

    Are there any car makers who make a profit selling into Canada while not being in the US market?

    • 0 avatar

      “Are there any car makers who make a profit selling into Canada while not being in the US market?”

      Today? Mazda doesn’t sell in Canada only, but they probably could. They have a few top-placing products here and their absence from the US wouldn’t really harm them.

      Back in the day it was possible Lada might have done so, but I never really checked.

  • avatar

    Is it just me or does that look just like a scion XD?

  • avatar

    A pity – I quite liked the SX4 hatch (we won’t talk about the no-alibi Aerio though)

  • avatar

    I agree they will not do well here in Canada without being sold and serviced in the USA, to me it reminds me when I was very young my Dad purchased a new Bike for me, I would have liked a CCM Model, but my Dad was sold on one called “Brown” over the years the Brown one left a lot to be desired and went to “pot” real fast,my parents should have purchased a CCM! Lesson learned the hard way.Besides I don’t know of any Dealers in my location either.

  • avatar

    There’s no way anyone here in Canada in their right mind will buy a Suzuki car now. Because somebody stands up and says they are going to continue in Canada means absolutely nothing and makes no sense for the reasons they stated. Its hopeless, its a matter of when do they bail out, not if.

  • avatar

    Looks like they’re taking a page out of Studebaker’s playbook, hope it works out better for them, the Kizashi and SX4 deserve better.

  • avatar

    How can they future R & D while just selling in Canada and meet NHSTA & CA emissions generalized by Ottawa?

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