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Suzuki  Rally fever: Suzuki's awesome new SX4 WRCar.

Rally fever: Suzuki's awesome new SX4 WRCar.

Record sales look set to continue as Suzuki turns to premium new models


SUZUKI wants to be perceived in Australia as a premium car brand such as Honda, and plans to achieve this with a wider product range, better model supply, a revamped dealer network and improved marketing.

Selling 28,000 vehicles in 2008, and up to 40,000 by 2010, is also the goal of Suzuki Australia general manager Tony Devers, who started with the company in March.

This year is already shaping up to be a fifth successive record year, with Suzuki set to eclipse its 20,000-unit target by over five per cent.

With four new models on their way between now and 2010, each will introduce Suzuki into fresh segments.

By then, it will participate in about 60 per cent of the new-vehicle market in Australia. Currently the figure is around 47 per cent.

“We don’t want to compete in everything (but) we do want to be in the growth segments,” Mr Devers said. “It’s no good being where the market is not.”

It is all part of Suzuki’s 2003 rebirth which encompasses a new philosophy whereby the company is willing to forgo some of its huge market share success in Japan – built mainly on ‘city car’ domination – for models that will find greater appeal across the global motoring landscape, especially in Australia, Europe and North America.

For Australia, a key model was released in dealerships this week in the shape of the expanded SX4 range, which now kicks off at $19,990 and includes a new sedan bodystyle and front-wheel drive or AWD availability.

This gives Suzuki the best chance yet to be a force in Australia’s largest volume segment, the small-car class. Its desire is for SX4 to be a top-five nameplate inside two years.

To add a “halo effect” to the range, Suzuki will leverage its SX4 WRC rally car, which will be formally announced at the Frankfurt motor show next week, before an all-out assault commences in next year’s championship series.

Expect a GTI-style derivative with AWD to hit Suzuki’s showrooms, perhaps as early as 2009, as the company aims to muscle in on the Volkswagen Golf GTi/Honda Civic Type R market.

In June, Mr Devers told GoAuto that he could quadruple SX4 sales as a result of Suzuki’s new manufacturing site in Hamamatsu, Japan. Year-to-date, more than 1000 of the top-line AWD models have already found buyers.

This will also clear the backlog of the super-successful Swift light car, which is recording a 40 per cent lift in Australian sales in 2007.

Suzuki center imageLeft: The Suzuki Splash (top) and Kizashi concept (bottom).

In fact, the Swift’s global success is vexing Suzuki; how will it replace it, come 2011?

Much of the Swift’s appeal is in its youthful styling, but many buyers – especially in Europe – respond equally to the Suzuki’s compact size. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the replacement will be significantly larger to make space for the recently revealed Splash, as well as to address the poor rear legroom complaints that the Swift attracts.

If all goes to plan, the Splash – a tall-standing four-seater five-door “sub light car” that Suzuki has co-devised (and markets separately) with Opel in Germany – will hit our shores towards the end of next year, priced between $13,000 and $17,000 – or around $3000 less than the Swift.

In Europe, the Splash competes against babies like its Opel Agila twin, the Ford Ka, Fiat’s hot new 500 and the Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1 triplets, among others.

Meanwhile, the growing mid-sized sedan sector is under close scrutiny by Suzuki as it prepares a rival for the Mazda6, Subaru Liberty, Honda Accord Euro and Ford Mondeo.

The Kizashi concept car showing much of this model’s look will be presented at this month’s Frankfurt show, revealing the importance of this car in Europe and America.

According to a Suzuki spokesman, the production version will probably be seen in late 2009, with an Australian debut pencilled in for an early 2010 launch.

Going up a notch, the mid-sized sedan will probably spawn a mid-sized SUV – in much the same way that the Toyota Camry sires the Toyota Kluger.

As another Suzuki insider revealed, this SUV will sit above the current Grand Vitara range, which will continue to offer some off-road capability; the new SUV will be an on-road-based crossover with sporty dynamics, striking styling and seven seats.

It may also feature Suzuki’s first in-house diesel engine. We understand that a four-cylinder powerplant of varying capacities is well advanced in the development phase. Stay tuned for more on that soon.

“Japan must take the lead in diesel engines,” said Suzuki Australia’s managing director Takeshi Hayasaki.

On the fourth all-new model, Suzuki is remaining tight-lipped. However, a dedicated petrol-electric hybrid model may be in the model matrix, as well as a European-style mini-MPV in the mould of the Renault Scenic.

In order to cope with all the expanded new-model activity, Suzuki has embarked on a $40 million upgrade of its dealer network.

This involves new showrooms boasting a bolder profile for the brand, a greater network spread and more stand-alone operations.

“Since I’ve arrived I have fired five dealers and appointed six,” Mr Devers said.

On the marketing side, Mr Devers is broadening the brand’s reach. One way he is doing this is by “de-feminising” the marque with advertising that appeals to males as well as females.

“We have developed a more macho ad for the Swift, where ‘Every drive is a rally drive,’ has helped build Suzuki as a more aspirational brand, making it more synonymous with higher-quality product,” he said. “We want to be a more prestigious brand.

“We are ‘Made in Japan’ high reliability, high quality and with a degree of emotion.”

An ex-Honda Australia sales and marketing executive, Mr Devers said Suzuki has exactly what it takes to be like Honda.

“Honda has had great success building on their success and Suzuki’s heritage is longer and as strong,” he said. “We’re also leveraging Suzuki’s 98-year history and rich motorsport heritage.”

Read more:

Suzuki Australia is on Splash watch

First look: Kizashi is Suzuki’s new medium

Sydney show: WRC Suzuki wows




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