Suzuki su­per­sizes

The Ja­panese brand moves up a class, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

THE count­down has started on Suzuki Aus­tralia’s big­gest gam­ble. It’s called the Kizashi and it will pit the baby Ja­panese brand against medi­um­sized big hit­ters such as the Mazda6, Honda Euro and new Subaru Lib­erty.

It will be fol­lowed by a new-gen­er­a­tion Swift in 2011 and a larger four-wheel drive, to sit above the Grand Vi­tara, the year af­ter.

The Kizashi will land in the sec­ond quar­ter of next year and Suzuki be­lieves it can lift the brand out of the baby-car class.

‘‘This is the big­gest passenger car we’ve made. There’s a lot rid­ing on it,’’ Suzuki Aus­tralia gen­eral man­ager Tony Dev­ers says.

‘‘It’s a driver’s car and we’ve bench­marked the Mazda6 and Honda Ac­cord Euro.’’

The first Kizashi will hit Aus­tralia within weeks, as a pre-pro­duc­tion ver­sion is put through the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process. Then an early pro­duc­tion unit will face po­ten­tial buy­ers in a clinic to test ac­cep­tance, price and po­si­tion.

The Kizashi will be launched as a 2.4-litre front-wheel drive at around $30,000, with a V6 of more than 3.0-litres arriving later. The V6 may also get all-wheel drive.

Be­fore then, Suzuki says it needs to get mov­ing on its all-wheel drive SX4 hatch and is plan­ning a mi­nor facelift.

‘‘We’ve dropped the ball on the SX4,’’ Dev­ers ad­mits.

This year Suzuki has sold only 1337 SX4s, down al­most 50 per cent over the same pe­riod last year.

Dev­ers says the changeover to the new car is to blame.

‘‘We lost about three months of pro­duc­tion,’’ he says.

The facelifted SX4 gets a more pow­er­ful 2.0-litre en­gine, a 20 per cent fuel econ­omy boost and more equip­ment.

Dev­ers wants to re­launch the car with more en­thu­si­asm, but ad­mits it goes up against tough com­pe­ti­tion such as the Toy­ota Corolla and Mazda3. So Suzuki plans to push the car’s in­di­vid­ual styling and all-wheel-drive ca­pac­ity.

‘‘AWD rep­re­sents about 70 per cent of SX4 sales. We’ll def­i­nitely push that more among po­ten­tial buy­ers,’’ Dev­ers says.

Though Suzuki is plan­ning for Kizashi and mov­ing on SX4, Grand Vi­tara and Swift re­main its big cash cows.

Grand Vi­tara sales are up 12 per cent this year thanks to the ad­di­tion of a 2.4-litre three-door model and the Swift is weath­er­ing the over­all down­turn, with sales down only 14 per cent year in the six months to June.

Dev­ers says cus­tomer loy­alty is im­prov­ing as the brand’s rep­u­ta­tion grows.

Four years ago Suzuki had a buyer-re­ten­tion rate of only 22 per cent, but this has grown to about 60 per cent.

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