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‘High hopes’ for Suzuki Vitara

Welcome return: The Suzuki Vitara SUV will give the car-maker ammunition in the competitive compact SUV space, according to the company’s local general manager.

Vitara small SUV to plug big gap in Suzuki’s Australian line-up

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Suzuki logo28 Jul 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER

SUZUKI Australia is forecasting the market for compact SUVs will continue to blossom and, going by current trends, expects the small high-riders – including its new-generation Vitara due soon – to overtake small passenger cars as the country’s most popular segment.

While the Japanese car-maker offers the diminutive S-Cross in the small crossover segment, its forthcoming new Vitara could be better placed to take the fight up to big players such as Honda’s HR-V and the Mazda CX-3 when it arrives in September after a 14-year hiatus.

The Swift light hatchback is the brand’s current top-selling model, moving about 800 to 1000 examples per month, but in an exclusive interview with GoAuto Suzuki Australia general manager of automobiles Andrew Moore said small SUVs would soon be Australia’s favourite type of vehicle.

“HR-V and CX-3 are probably a bit more successful than even they expected so this segment is really hot in Australia,” he said. “We forecast small hatch as the biggest space, but by the end of 2017 by current trends, small SUV will go ahead of small hatch as the top-selling segment.”

Initially the Vitara will arrive in relatively small numbers due to production constraints and the popularity of the car in Europe where it is already on sale, but that figure is set to grow consistently, driven by local demand, according to Mr Moore.

“I’ve got really high hopes for that car. Probably the biggest challenge for us to start with, it’s already launched in Europe and they have a lot of back-orders so there is some pressure on production and supply,” he said.

“I have started boosting my orders for cars but stock is going to be an issue to start with, but in saying that, it’s still significant growth for us.

“We are looking at about 350 a month in the early stages. Dealers have been very positive towards the car so I have increased our orders for future months and on into next year.

“So far what we’ve asked for hasn’t been cut back too much. The plant in Hungary has capacity of about 200,000 vehicles per year. My personal prediction is that Vitara will be such a successful car that Suzuki will look at producing it out of Japan. That would be positive for Australia.”

In addition to adding volume to Suzuki sales currently dominated by the Swift, Mr Moore said the Vitara also represents an important model for retaining a maturing customer base.

“Vitara is the key one,” he said. “Swift is a real hero model for us at 800 to 1000 a month, but bring in Vitara and it brings in another buyer type into the Suzuki showroom,” he said.

“It also gives an opportunity for loyal Swift customers to step up. Eighteen- to 23-year-olds, they become professional couples at 28, 29, and Vitara is the perfect car.

“It’s going to be very competitively priced and we are looking at HR-V and CX-3. It’s a hot-looking car and what you’ll see at launch is we want to spec it so it’s stylish and it’s got everything that aspirational, image-conscious, professional young people want.

“The Vitara probably more directly competes with the HR-V and I’d like to think it will grab CX-3, Mazda3 and Corolla buyers as well.”

In Europe the Vitara is offered with a diesel engine, but at launch the Australian version will be powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine only. Mr Moore said a diesel option was not off the cards but customers would be happy with the petrol engine’s economy.

“We are investigating it (diesel),” he said. “What we know about the car already is it’s very economical. It’s in light-segment figures.

“Fuel economy is a key thing in this segment and it’s already super-economical (with the petrol engine).

“If we were talking about a large four-wheel drive, you would be saying yes it’s got to have a diesel.

“At this stage we won’t be bringing it here at launch, but we are evaluating it for down the track.”

In small-car-centric Europe, the arrival of Vitara has sealed the fate of the slightly larger Grand Vitara, but on home soil the lasting popularity of the off-roader has secured its existence here for the time being.

“Grand Vitara is a bit of a different car,” said Mr Moore. “Obviously it has that real four-wheel-drive heritage so we’re going to sell the two side by side.

“We expect Vitara sales to be much higher than Grand Vitara but we still think, particularly in some of our regional areas, there are still customers who love Grand Vitara.

“I can understand in Europe people might move to the smaller car but here this is the market for them. If we can sell 100 a month then why not? We’ve been selling 150 to 200 but some of those customers will move across to Vitara.”

Mr Moore confirmed the new Vitara would be positioned between its baby S-Cross and larger Grand Vitara.

Pricing is yet to be confirmed but its positioning is likely to ensure it comes in under the $25,990 plus on-roads starting price of the entry-level three-door Grand Vitara and above the $22,990 base S-Cross.

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