Suzuki Quits US Auto Sales

Though we may have seen it coming, I was surprised when word got out that Suzuki will cease selling new cars in the US. American Suzuki Motor Corporation filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy today. It looked like Suzuki had been dormant for some time, but when The Garage reviewed the all-new 2010 Kizashi, I was encouraged at the renewed enthusiasm of Suzuki in the States. There were rumors the much lauded Suzuki Swift would finally make its return to these shores. Today, all that went up in smoke.

The Kizashi seemed like a ray of hope for a company that had appeared to have completely lost interest in selling cars in the US. But when the Kiazashi arrived with high hopes from Suzuki, the company marketed the car as just as good as an Audi A4, even challenging Audi shoppers to drive the car, with the promise to pay them $100 if they took the A4. But the Kizashi was competing against cars like the VW Jetta and Mazda6, and Suzuki’s marketing people weren’t talking to them. Which was a shame, because the Kizashi was a great car. Suzuki reached out to an audience that just did not care, and missed a great opportunity.

Suzuki blames low sales, a limited line of vehicles, among other reasons for withdrawing. And that is true. Suzuki has been selling around 2,000 cars a month nationwide. Toyota/Lexus sold 155,000 cars last month, to put things into perspective. Suzuki lacked a full line of vehicles to offer mass appeal to a large group of buyers as well, and the company is right for admitting the same. The SX4, a compact all-wheel drive car has been the bread and butter for Suzuki in the US since its 2007 debut. But with limited development, the SX4 started to get stale in an ever-changing market.

So yes, I am in complete agreement with Suzuki’s reasons. What I would like to add is a scant amount of dealers will hardly help boost sales. I actually live a couple miles from a Suzuki dealership, and I can honestly say I have never seen the Grand Vitara SUV or Equator pick-up on their lot. Hard to be a sales success when half of your products are not even available. But I can’t put blame on the dealer when the company itself is doing almost nothing to promote its product. As a car journalist, I am ashamed to say until today I did not even know Suzuki sold a truck called the Equator, but on the flip side, it goes to show what little effort Suzuki did in promoting its vehicles to the automotive press, and even less so to the car buying public.

I honestly believe if Suzuki brought the Swift back to the US, marketed the Kizashi properly, and streamlined their car/truck portfolio they could have had a chance to be a small, but successful player. But the reality was Suzuki offered no brand identity, a fragmented product line, and a hugely misdirected marketing strategy on the Kizashi, which I now believe was the make it or break it car for the powers that be in Japan. The Kizashi was a sales flop, and that was it.

As a car guy, and one that always roots for the underdog, I am sad to see Suzuki leave the US market. Fear not, their motorcycles and ATV’s will still be sold here, and Suzuki will continue building cars, just not selling them here. Still, I hate to see a company go that offered decent cars at reasonable prices, when it could have been different. While there has been no word from Suzuki Canada, odds are if no further vehicles will be imported to the US, the same can be said for our friends up north.

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