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Suzuki confident in expanding SUV line-up

That’s enough: Suzuki will not expand its light-commercial vehicle line-up in Australia beyond the APV van.

Vitara to act as halo for other SUVs in Suzuki line-up, but more LCVs ruled out

Suzuki logo21 Sep 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

SUZUKI Australia’s burgeoning crossover and compact-SUV line-up will not be confusing for buyers, with one of the company’s local bosses suggesting that the lure of the new Vitara could have a positive impact on other model lines.

Earlier this month the Japanese car-maker launched its all-new Vitara that will compete against the Honda HR-V, Mitsubishi ASX and Mazda CX-3 in the busy small-SUV segment, but its Jimny and the S-Cross will be joined by more crossovers.

While it is yet to be confirmed for the local market, the tiny Suzuki iM-4 concept that was revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show will surface soon in production guise and, as reported by GoAuto, will resurrect the long-dead Ignis nameplate.

Suzuki Australia general manger Andrew Moore said that having a number of offerings in the same segment is a risk, but once people are drawn to the dealership by something like the new Vitara, buyers might decide to look at another model within the range.

“There is a risk, I think you’ve just got to market them right,” he said at the Vitara SUV launch. “We will definitely be skewing a lot more of our advertising towards Vitara.

“Let’s say the next six months our advertising focus will be Vitara and when a customer comes into the showroom, it’s a bit like a Mazda approach – they might come in looking at CX-3 but they buy a CX-5. They come in looking at a Vitara and they consider what is best to suit them.

“It’s probably about accepting a lower awareness level of S-Cross and so forth.

Come in on Vitara and let the customer decide what is best for them.

“There are so many empty nesters buying cars at the moment because they have the money to do it and equity in their homes, there are plenty that will come in and go, that Vitara is a bit too out there for me and S-Cross will satisfy them.” The Vitara is on sale now from $21,990 plus on-roads, topping out at $31,990, while the S-Cross, which arrived in late 2013, ranges in price from $22,990 to $34,990. The off-road capable all-wheel drive Jimny retails for $20,990.

Mr Moore said it was a challenge for a small brand such as Suzuki to get on buyer’s shopping lists, but added that re-introducing a familiar name could help the Vitara’s chances in the competitive segment.

“It’s very challenging when you move into a newish segment. For something like Swift, it’s not so challenging, we are on the shopping list. And I am confident that for this car it won’t be as difficult because Vitara has been around before, people do recognise Suzuki SUV and everyone has got a story of an old Sierra or something like that.

“But the difference is, you see at the moment Mazda showrooms are just so busy.

They (buyers) are not sure they want to buy, but they will go in there and see what there is. Same with Toyota.

“A huge number of Toyota buyers don’t even consider anything else, they just go in and buy a Toyota. We don’t have that level of Suzuki customer at this point.

“We don’t have the volume, we have to conquest to grow our sales because historical sales weren’t as big. It’s definitely a challenge and probably what makes it harder is we don’t have the advertising budget as the others as well but we are spending a lot of money on Vitara so you won’t miss it.”

A segment that Suzuki is unlikely to expand its presence in Down Under is the light-commercial market, despite the huge potential in the one-tonne ute sector.

It currently offers the APV light delivery van from $18,990, which is the third best-selling offering in the segment on 368 sales year to date, behind the segment-dominating Volkswagen Caddy (1466 sales) and the increasingly popular Renault Kangoo (757).

Mr Moore said Suzuki Australia has pushed its parent company to pursue a light-commercial ute to take on the likes of the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, but it is unlikely to happen.

“For eight years we have been saying to the factory – ‘Suzuki reliability, a commercial ute would be fantastic, we would do really well’. But in other markets like Japan and Indonesia, they use cab-chassis APV-type vehicles. So the vehicles we could get access to as utes are tiny truck utes.” Mr Moore said the company had considered and APV-based pick-up, but determined that it would not work in the Australian market.

“I have had a look, I just don’t think there is the market for it here. Because they are small. It works in Japan and Thailand where the streets are tiny, they are trucks and utes but they are the size of a Swift.”

While there could be an opportunity to look at converted Jimny utes – already sold in limited numbers in New Zealand – Mr Moore believes that it would be hard to make a business case for the utes Down Under.

“We have been talking about it and New Zealand do some conversions, but it’s not big volumes. We have asked them to do a chop and provide it. It’s a difficult thing to do and we would only do 10 a month.

“A farmer or whoever probably wants a bigger Triton or something like that.

There are definitely pockets where, yes the small vehicles benefit, but the majority of cases it won’t. It’s a workhorse they want and they want to fit more in it.”

Suzuki offered the tiny Mighty Boy ute in Australia in the mid-to-late 1980s, which was a sub-600cc Japanese market ‘Kei’ car and drew something of a cult following.

Just 2800 examples of the 3.2-metre long, 550kg ute found homes in Australia. In the United States, Suzuki sold the Equator pick-up, which was a rebadged version of Nissan’s previous-generation Navara. It lasted just four years on the market before American Suzuki Motor Corporation filed for bankruptcy in late 2012.

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