The Japanese brand moves up a class, writes NEIL McDONALD
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.