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SX4 sedan to bolster Suzuki Oz sales

Three-box: The booted SX4 debuted at the Geneva motor show last week.

SX4 sedan to head a gaggle of new models, as supply hinders a resurgent Suzuki

Suzuki logo12 Mar 2007

By MARTON PETTENDY and NEIL MCDONALD

A THREE-BOX sedan version of Suzuki's new SX4 hatch was revealed at last week's Geneva motor show and will play a vital role in Suzuki Australia's ambitions to double sales between 2008 and 2010.

Confirmed to join the all-wheel drive SX4 hatch on sale in Australia from the third quarter of this year, the front-drive SX4 sedan is expected to help grow local Suzuki sales from a forecast 20,000 vehicles in 2007 to about 40,000 in 2010.

The booted SX4 - which will be sold alongside the unloved 1.8-litre Liana sedan and hatch ($19,990) and represents the third model in the revitalised Japanese maker's new-generation product line-up - borrows its wedge-shaped, Euro-inspired exterior styling from the SX4 hatch launched here in late January.

Suzuki claims it will also combine that car's stability with responsive handling inherited from the super-successful Swift light hatch, along with "the ride comfort expected of a sedan".

Cabin space is alleged to be "particularly spacious due to the use of Suzuki's traditional high-roof" and the sedan employs the same MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspensions as the hatch.

Also to be sourced from Japan, Europe-bound SX4 sedans will come standard with twin front airbags, ABS, EBD and five three-point seatbelts.

The biggest difference, therefore, will be the fitment of a 1.6-litre VVT four-cylinder engine borrowed from the 92kW 1.6-litre Swift Sport five-door - instead of the SX4 AWD hatch's 107kW/184Nm 2.0-litre engine.

Expect pricing from around $20,000 - midway between the Swift Sport 1.6 ($23,990) and SX4 AWD 2.0 ($24,390) and the base Swift hatch ($15,990), which is powered by a 75kW 1.5-litre four. As with both those models, a four-speed auto adds $2000 to the five-speed manual's entry price.

Suzuki's new-generation Swift has transformed the Australian operations of the small Japanese car-maker. Mimicking the global success of what has been described as Japan’s answer to the Mini Cooper, Swift helped push Suzuki Oz sales to more than 15,000 sales last year - up almost 15 per cent over 2005.

Two-thirds of that increase are directly due to the Swift and it's hoped SX4 sedna will contribute similar incremental sales growth.

"The Swift has changed the culture of Suzuki in Australia," Suzuki Australia’s managing director, Tak Hayasaki, said at the launch of the new SX4 in late January.

Buoyed by better supply of the Swift and Swift Sport from Japan, and the arrival of the just-launched SX4 (which is currently forecast to find just 200 buyers a month because of supply issues), Suzuki has forecast 20,000 sales for 2007.

Mr Hayasaki was confident of momentum continuing as supply constraints ease and new models and variants come on-stream. He expected that by 2010 Suzuki would be selling 40,000 passenger cars and 4WDs in Australia.

"But supply is the biggest issue for us," he said. "We are fighting for supply and it’s a challenge for us." To help solve this issue, Suzuki is building a new $US500 million factory at Sagara in Japan, which comes on stream late next year. With an annual capacity of 240,000 vehicles, the factory should be able to meet the high demand for the Swift, SX4 and Grand Vitara in global markets, including Australia.

30 center imageLeft: Suzuki Splash concept. In Australia, Suzuki will concentrate on building the brand and Mr Hayasaki’s assistant Tsunehiro Imada told GoAuto that the company was focused on a number of issues specific to this country, such as the fact that Queensland is still not a part of Suzuki Australia business.

"Originally we had five different departments here," he said. "It’s difficult but we’re aiming to build our brand awareness." In future, he expected Queensland to be more involved in Suzuki’s national campaigns.

Apart from the SX4 hatch and sedan, the company is looking at other ways of broadening the new model’s sales footprint.

The SX4 is available overseas with an economical 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine, but this variant is unlikely for Australia as the engine is currently only built in Europe and would need to be sourced out of Japan to make it price competitive.

The bigger XL7 four-wheel drive, which is currently only sold in the left-hand drive North American market has been ruled out, too.

Other new models are also on the cards, with the company planning a smaller $13,000 hatch to be positioned under the Swift by 2008, possibly based on the Splash MPV concept unveiled in Paris last September.

The Splash shares its architecture with the Swift but features a new 1.2-litre engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It measures 3780mm long, 1780mm wide and 1650mm high, and sits on a wheelbase of 2360mm, making it slightly longer, wider and higher than a Proton Savvy.

The current Liana sedan and hatch and Jimny 4WD are expected to continue, with new-generation models not due for several years.

The current Liana was launched in 2003 and is midway through its model cycle, recently gaining a 1.8-litre engine in place of the original 1.6-litre. The SX4 will continue to be sold alongside the Liana, despite the fact that both cars will be sold into the same (small-car) segment.

Suzuki also aims to get into the mid-size segment, with its front-drive Tosca, but an arrival date has been pushed out to 2008 because of capacity issues.

The Tosca shares its platform architecture with Holden’s new Epica, using two in-line six-cylinder engines of 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre capacity. The 2.0-litre Tosca develops 107kW/188Nm while the 2.5 delivers 117kW/235Nm.

Suzuki’s Australian management will be watching closely how the Epica performs. The company has never had a mid-size competitor in Australia and admits the segment, although small, could offer opportunity.

In Japan, Suzuki has also announced it will start building hybrid-powered cars as soon as possible, using GM technology, but Australian management believes such vehicles – at competitive prices – would still be some way off.

Apart from revealing the SX4 sedan and re-showing the Splash, Suzuki used Geneva to announce intentions to create a Swift Sport Rally Cup. Alongside an SSRC car was Suzuki's SX4 World Rally Championship challenger, which will enter two rounds on a test basis this year - the Rallye de France in October and the Rally GB in November. The SX4 racer will make its full WRC assault in 2008.

What's coming from Suzuki:

SX4 hatch - February 2007
SX4 sedan - September 2007
Sub-light hatch - 2008
Medium sedan - 2008

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