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Suzuki looks at the big picture

Mottee crew: Suzuki Australia general manager automobiles David Le Mottee with the XL-7 (back) and the Liana.

Size does matter as Suzuki seeks to wrench itself from the mini-car mould

16 Jul 2001

SUZUKI Australia claims to have broken free from the mini-car mould and is now thinking big instead of small.

While the new XL-7 long-wheelbase Grand Vitara will improve its standing in the booming recreational four-wheel drive segment, the niche Japanese manufacturer has a series of models in the pipeline designed to further grow the brand in both size and stature.

Suzuki Australia general manager automobiles David Le Mottee said a renewed emphasis on performance cars and strengthening ties with General Motors would help Suzuki become a more "well rounded" company.

"The problem that Suzuki has had is that because it only sells small cars and small four-wheel drives, it had poor customer retention," said Mr Le Mottee.

"They want to start to grow their product range so they can capitalise on growing market segments." From October, the stylish 1.6-litre Liana five-door will replace the Baleno range and herald the first of several variants off the platform including a sedan, wagon and, come late 2002/early 2003, a high-performance all-wheel drive variant based on the SX (sports crossover) concept revealed at the New York auto show in April.

Mr Le Mottee said Suzuki planned to introduce a sports derivative in every passenger car model and that production realities with Liana SX, particularly the 165kW 2.0-litre supercharged engine, were currently being explored.

"We need to have a car that gives us a halo effect," he said.

"At this stage we're asking for a lot and we're putting pressure on the factory and we're waiting for a formal response." Though Suzuki will not get its own version of the Cruze mini off-roader it developed with General Motors, Mr Le Mottee said larger-sized cars and greater component sharing would emerge from the partnership with GM, which owns 20 per cent of Suzuki Motor Corp.

GM has also announced it will form a new 100 per cent-owned company, General Motors Asia Pacific, in August to strengthen ties with Suzuki and its other Japanese partner Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru).

"If we've got access to more purchasing power that means we can make cars more efficiently - and we can get access to more product which allows us to grow the brand," said Mr Le Mottee.

If the forthcoming vehicles, a value-added marketing strategy and a more focused dealer network all bear fruit, Mr Le Mottee said annual sales would grow from 6400 in 2000 to 10,000 within two years.

Ignis leads the charge

SUZUKI'S plan to put a performance variant at the top of each passenger car model begins in Australia early next year with an Ignis GTi.

Expected to preview at the Tokyo motor show in October, the hot Ignis will bring with it increments in performance, handling and appearance in a similar vein to the Daihatsu Sirion GTvi.

Final specifications are still being negotiated, however Suzuki Australia general manager automobiles David Le Mottee confirmed the three-door would be priced around $22,000 and include features such as a bodykit, alloy wheels, CD stereo, air-conditioning and anti-lock brakes.

The engine is tipped to be a 1.6-litre unit sourced from the forthcoming Liana hatch which would tie-in neatly with the Ignis Super 1600 rally car campaigned in this year's Asia Pacific Rally Championship by Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima.

The Liana 1.6 develops 76kW at 5500rpm and 144Nm at 4000rpm, while the rally car is fitted with a sequential six-speed gearbox, 17-inch wheels and four-wheel disc brakes with four-piston front and two-piston rear callipers.

The GTi should spark more interest in the "cooking" three-door, which currently accounts for 30 per cent of Ignis sales and is about to be upgraded with air-conditioning standard and other new items such as wheel covers for a revised retail price of $14,990.

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