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Suzuki steers clear of Liana sedan

Range extremes: The Aerio and GSX-R4 are at either extreme of Suzuki's product portfolio.

Suzuki decides against hatching a plan to bring the Liana sedan to Australia

6 Nov 2001

SUZUKI Australia is unlikely to add the sedan version of the Liana to its Australian product range, despite most of its small-medium rivals offering both body styles.

The Liana sedan was unveiled as the Aerio at the Tokyo motor show last week, and if Suzuki Australia wanted it, it could be here as soon as mid-2002.

The Liana five-door went on sale in Australia on November 1 at a cut-throat recommended retail price of $19,990, with standard equipment including dual airbags, air-conditioning and a CD audio system.

The Aerio measures up very similar to Liana - as is to be expected - being slightly longer, heavier and shorter and with the same width.

An important difference is engine capacity. In Australia the Liana is equipped with a 1.6-litre engine, while the Aerio is fitted with a 1.5.

Suzuki general manager automobiles David le Mottee said the company would struggle to justify bringing in the Aerio because of the five-door's keen pricing.

"The sedan will be the same price as the hatch, and if they are the same price I think people will always go toward the hatch," he said.

"The people who really buy small sedans are fleets and older people. You have to give fleet buyers such a huge discount it's not worth being in that end of the business unless you have some other cars to off-set it against. Suzuki doesn't have any other cars to off-set it against.

"We're a small manufacturer with five car lines to support which makes it very expensive to market, so adding one more without getting additional volume is just not a good business decision." If the decision goes against Aerio, it means Suzuki Australia could go through most or all of 2002 without a new product launch.

The Liana GTi has been set back until at least late in the year while the hot-hatch 2.0-litre supercharged Liana SX has yet to be confirmed for production, although development work is continuing.

Instead, the company is expected to concentrate on limited editions, including an up-market XL-7 with standard leather, a sunroof and possibly cruise control, which could become a permanent part of the range.

Mr le Mottee said Suzuki could be looking at the installation of a new 1.8-litre engine in the Ignis GTi, which could also find its way into the Liana.

But one car that definitely won't front in production form is the spectacular GSX-R4 two-seat sportscar, which is powered by a 1.3-litre Hayabusa motorcycle engine. Mr le Mottee said it was too complex to make the transition to production, but he is encouraged by the trend.

"We'd like to see something that had potential to have some sports and performance themes.

"Suzuki is renowned for building very good high performance motorbikes. I'd like to see Suzuki get into performance cars so we can leverage some of those experiences.

"Secondly behind that are lifestyle products, which is really broad and really vague but that's what people want. They want CR-Vs, they want those sorts of cars."

Dealer priority

THE prospect of no new cars to launch in 2002 does not concern Mr le Mottee unduly.

He says sorting out his dealer network is the number one priority.

There are 105 Suzuki dealerships under his control - and that does not include Queensland where independent Mayfairs still handles Suzuki product.

Considering the company sold just under 6400 cars last year, it is understandable that Suzuki Australia plans to cut that back to around 70.

The burgeoning dealer numbers are a direct result of the days when Suzuki sales were handled by separately owned distributorships in different states.

"We've got dealers who haven't sold cars in two years, so we are going to do a process of saying to dealers 'look these are our standards, this is what we want you to do to be a Suzuki dealer, if you think you can do it terrific you have our support, if you can't do it let's find a way to move on'," Mr le Mottee said.

He said the majority of dealer culling would occur in "dormant" rural markets.

Mr le Mottee said Suzuki Australia had also revised its sales projections downwards in the wake of September 11.

It had hoped to be at around 10,000 sales by 2004, but is now shooting for 8500-9000.

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