Suzuki, the Japanese small car maker, has finally coughed and sputtered its last breath in these here United States. Despite a sales high of over 100,000 cars in 2007, the company could barely sell any over the course of 2012.
But why is that? Like on any sinking ship, a main problem seems to have been obvious mismanagement. The Truth About Cars heard from an American Suzuki Motor Corporation (ASMC) employee about the disdain the Japanese corporate office seemed to have for their American counterparts, with head management instilling a culture of fear among anyone brave enough to bring up problems:
“Here at Suzuki, us American workers are not to speak directly to them. We must go through our department managers. The Japanese do not make eye contact with anyone, even in passing in the office.”
Morale like that is a great way to make any company implode. But if we treat Suzuki like any company, we have to look at any company’s reason for existence — product. It doesn’t matter if you make widgets, potatoes, or provide legal services, if your product sucks, you might as well start the death clock.
Suzuki’s product didn’t suck, per se, but it certainly was fighting an uphill battle. Up against Toyotas, Hondas, Fords, Chevrolets, Nissans, Kias, Hyundais, new Dodge Darts, and a whole slew of competitors, cars like the Suzuki Kizashi probably didn’t stand much of a chance to begin with in the small car segment. Without trading on the big name of a Toyota or a Honda, the Kizashi, and all of Suzuki’s models, had to have some sort of proverbial “hook.”
Hooks aren’t hard to come by- Kia and Hyundai came up with easy ones in the 90’s, with their 10-year/100,000 mile warranties, which was a neat feature to people worried about reliability. The Fiat 500 has Italian, um, “sophistication.” But Suzukis like the Kizashi?
Below is a picture of a Kia Forte and a Suzuki Kizashi with the logos blanked out. You tell me which of these two lumps of car is the one that nobody will be able to buy anymore.
If you still can’t tell after staring upon their neutral-color blandness and glory for a full five minutes, the Kia is the one on the left. And that is why no one ever bought a Suzuki. Despite critical acclaim from gearhead auto journalists, there’s no reason to do so.
It didn’t have to be this way though. Forget the crushing management and morale problems- Suzuki needed cars. And where could the company get cars?
Suzuki made fantastic little cars like the Swift. Despite a crowded market, what with the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris, there’s still room for a subcompact, as the relative success of the Fiat 500 has shown. And, as Europe has demonstrated, there’s always room for another hot hatch. Hell, another lukewarm hatch even. Just look at the fun Top Gear had with these things, playing Car Hockey in Norway:
They could have traded on the Suzuki Hayabusa name, transfixed for more than ten years now to their Uber-Motorcycle that has been run at over 200 MPH, and slapped it on a line of ultra high-performance and lightweight small cars. The company could have been the savior of young guys everywhere who want something awesome to drive and don’t want to settle for something used. People had already experimented putting their bike engines in cars and the result was, frankly, fantastic.
Instead, they chose the path of abuse, neglect, and eventual abandonment.
I guess they got what they deserved.