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Suzuki to broaden Kizashi appeal
Kizashi sedan to be joined by new Suzuki reinforcements at this month’s NY show
5 Apr 2011
SUZUKI might use this month’s New York motor show to unveil a crossover wagon version of its classy Kizashi sedan, in the same vein as Subaru’s Outback and the Kizashi 2 shooting break concept from the 2007 Tokyo motor show.
Last week, the Japanese small-car specialist revealed it will stage two global debuts in the Big Apple on April 20. It said at least one of the vehicles would “take the Kizashi to the next level”, but it declined to provide details.
Local Suzuki distributors hope a new Kizashi derivative will enter production soon alongside the underrated mid-size sedan – two front-wheel drive variants of which were launched to critical acclaim here in May 2010 before the Sport AWD variant arrived in August, also powered by a 131kW/230Nm 2.4-litre petrol four – which has failed to match the popularity of its key Japanese, Korean and even German rivals.
However, they concede the unnamed New York show model(s) could be anything from a body-kitted US-only limited-edition variant of the existing Kizashi sedan to a full-time production hybrid model for global consumption.
The Kizashi attracted fewer than 1450 buyers in the eight months it was on sale last year, proving substantially less popular than Toyota’s dominant Melbourne-built Camry, the Mazda6, Subaru Liberty, Honda Accord Euro, Ford Mondeo, VW Passat and Jetta, Hyundai i45 – which will be joined by i40 wagon and, perhaps, i40 sedan siblings – and even Holden’s unloved Epica, which will be replaced by the all-new Malibu in the first half of 2012.
Before the fast-backed Kizashi 2 crossover emerged at Tokyo in 2007, Suzuki announced at the same year’s Frankfurt motor show, where the first of three Kizashi concepts debuted, that it was “also pursuing solutions such as hybrid technologies for the mid-size concept program”.
Suzuki executives admit the Kizashi derivative most likely to emerge next is an Audi Sportback-style wagon, which could also feature the increased ride height and off-road body cladding of the 3.6-litre V6-powered Kizashi 2 concept, making it a direct rival for mid-size crossover wagons such as the Outback.
If a crossover wagon does spring forth from the Kizashi’s new mid-size FR platform, it will be sold alongside the Grand Vitara compact SUV – the fourth generation of which is now under development and will retain its more rugged full chassis and dual-range transfer case, but could be offered in both five and seven-seat derivatives – the latter as a belated replacement for the XL-7 that was discontinued in 2001.
From top: Suzuki Kizashi Turbo concept from the 2010 Sydney show, standard Suzuki Kizashi, Suzuki Swift, new brand ambassador Liz Cantor with general manager of Suzuki Auto Co. Adam Le Fevre.
Alternatively, Suzuki might choose to introduce higher-performance Kizashi sedan next, powered not by the Kizashi 2’s 3.6-litre V6 sourced from GM, which has since divested its interest in Suzuki, but a V6 or turbocharged four-cylinder engine – potentially matched with a dual-clutch transmission – from its new industrial ally, Volkswagen.
The 2010 Sydney motor show’s 179kW/330Nm Kizashi Turbo concept was built using components supplied by Suzuki’s US performance partner, Road Race Motorsports, which already offers an accessory turbo kit for the Kizashi in North America – where it competes with Hyundai’s production Sonata Turbo – and the same aftermarket package could be sold here.
Whatever the NY show brings to the Kizashi menu, it can’t come soon enough for the general manager of independent Queensland distributor Suzuki Auto Co, Adam Le Fevre, who commissioned market research to identify barriers to the Kizashi’s success in Australia, where compelling new mid-size contenders like the Kia Optima threaten to overshadow Suzuki’s first ever medium sedan.
During a recent two-week period SAC dealers – which in total number 40 in Queensland and a further four in northern NSW – sold just seven Kizashis after fielding 123 enquiries and conducting 44 test drives.
“We think people who consider Suzuki can’t understand we are no longer a small car company,” he told GoAuto. “People say they love the Kizashi but have always wanted, say, a Mazda6 – or they ask if it will have the reliability of a BMW.
“We need a silver bullet, not to underline the Kizashi’s reliability or competitiveness, but to crack through the noise from our rivals, but we simply don’t have the budget.
“We recognise the decision making process and lead time is longer in this segment, we are addressing sales techniques and we’re confident we’ll get better, but it will take time.”
SAC is investigating strategies such as roadside assistance and extended warranty programs specifically for the Kizashi, as well as a customer loyalty initiative that could provide preferred event seating, special offers or even a concierge service to book concert tickets or even organise tradesmen for Kizashi owners.
“We are working very hard on a five-year warranty with the confidence we won’t have to call on it,” said Mr Fevre, who helped establish Fiat’s commercial vehicle network in Australia and Renault’s Queensland regional office before heading up SAC last August.
Apart from joining forces with Suzuki Australia to co-develop a TV commercial, stage nation-wide model launches and sponsor the Melbourne Storm ARL team, SAC organises a number of local-level brand activities, such as sponsorship of the Mater hospital.
SAC will soon announce its support of a national charity and this week announced Queensland surf reporter, weather presenter and TV personality Liz Cantor as Suzuki Queensland’s first brand ambassador.
“Liz represents the best attributes of a healthy, fun, active lifestyle and that I what Suzuki delivers every day with its entire range of vehicles,” said Mr Le Fevre, who said that a right-hand drive version of Suzuki’s US-only, Nissan Navara-based Equator ute could add 3000 sales to the brand’s annual sales here.
As part of the deal, Ms Cantor will traverse southeast Queensland for her roles at Channel 7 in a Grand Vitara. Last year Queenslanders purchased almost one third of all Grand Vitaras (and 22.3 per cent of all new vehicles) sold in Australia, despite representing about 20 per cent of the national population.
Last year, the total Queensland vehicle market was up 4.3 per cent, while Suzuki sales increased by 10.7 per cent in the sunshine state, outstripping the growth recorded nation-wide and in all states bar Victoria, west Australia and the Northern Territory.
In flood and cyclone-devastated Queensland – Australia’s second worst performing state so far in 2011 with a 7.5 per cent sales decline to February – Suzuki sales are down just 74 vehicles.
Nationally, so far this year Suzuki lies in 11th place with a 2.7 per cent market share. However, it remains a top-ten brand in the Queensland, where Suzuki holds a 2.9 per cent share – more than VW – despite almost 100 per cent of its sales coming from private buyers.
Suzuki sales continue to increase in Australia (up 17.3 per cent to February), thanks in large to a 400 per cent increase in Alto sales and despite a 1.7 per cent contraction of the total market this year.
For the first time last year, total (four-wheeled) Suzuki sales in Australia of 24,789 (up 22.1 per cent) topped the number of Suzukis sold in North America, where the Swift is not sold.
Suzuki’s US sales have been in rapid decline since it achieved 100,000 annual sales in both 2006 and 2007, but that gap is expected to widen this year, for which Suzuki Motor Corporation (before the Japanese earthquake) set a sales target of 30,000 Australian sales this year, including 6000 in Queensland.
The Swift – a nameplate that racked up two million sales worldwide in January after becoming Suzuki’s first global model in 2004 – has helped Suzuki get off to a flying start in 2011. Swift sales in Australia, where the latest model was released in early February, are up 14.4 per cent year-to-date with more than 2100 sold, making it one of just six light-segment models to record a sales lift this year.
Aided significantly by exploding automotive sales in India, where Maruti Suzuki celebrated the production of its 10 millionth vehicle on March 15, Suzuki Motor Corporation last year recorded annual sales growth for the first time in three years.
Suzuki sold 2.59 million new cars and trucks globally in 2010 (up 12 per cent on 2009), when significant sales slumps in the US and Europe were more than offset by a 27 per cent sales spike in Asia, with India accounting for the majority of the 1.54 million vehicles it sold there.
Established in 1983 and producing its first million cars by 1994, Maruti Suzuki now produces 1.2 million vehicles annually and holds a 45 per cent share of the Indian market. It plans to expand its annual production capacity to more than 1.7 million with the addition of two further production plants by 2013.
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