Musings on the Motoring World

Suzuki celebrates its centenary

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. It is one of those philosophical questions for the idle disappear up their own arse asking, so don’t think too much about it. Marketing execs at the Suzuki Motor Corporation, on the other hand, might need to ask themselves that very question.

Despite celebrating its 100th anniversary this month, there hasn’t been much news about its celebrations. The lack of a stir is strange, considering that we live in a time where any insignificant milestone is put on a pedestal to start up the hype train, like a vegetarian being given a sliver of attention. 

Then again, Suzuki’s centenary couldn’t have come at an inopportune time. With the coronavirus pandemic bringing everything to a standstill, it’s bad taste to celebrate 100 years of being in business when many others are at real risk of not making it through. Celebrations on Suzuki’s part have been subdued. A new logo symbolising infinity is the only commemoration the company has made. The de rigueur of special commemorative models or concept cars have yet to be revealed. If there are any in the pipeline to speak of.

That being said, unlike many 100-year old motor vehicle manufacturers, Suzuki is an odd one. For a company that has survived so long, it has done so without producing significant landmarks, at least when it came to its four-wheeled creations.

Now, this might sound more roast than toast. Unlike Toyota’s game-changing creations, Honda’s performance cars, or Mazda’s dogged determination with the rotary, Suzuki’s back catalogue is devoid of the sort of incredible halo cars that gave men a raging stiffy and rearranged the bedroom posters of adolescents. There was no one car in Suzuki’s past that can be named as being responsible for establishing its name in the hearts and minds of consumers in the same way its centenarian contemporaries had.

If there is one concurrent trend amongst Suzuki’s past creations it is making small cars. From the Cultus to the Swift, the indomitable Jimny and to the affable Cappuccino, Suzuki has a penchant for making pint-sized charmers that were truly cheap and cheerful. And it isn’t as though Suzuki hasn’t tried to make anything bigger or more aspirational. 

Suzuki did try to breach the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord market with the Kizashi back in 2009, a rather “fortuitous” era one might say. Remarkably for a first try, the Kizashi was well-received by pundits. Unfortunately for Suzuki, that didn’t translate into results.

When it came to sales at the forecourt, the Kizashi sold as well as you’d expect a lamb in a den full of lions. The economic crash didn’t help Suzuki’s fortunes either. Add that to the company’s abysmal track record with its three-row XL7 SUV and Nissan Frontier-based Equator pick-up, and you’d think that it had some sort of gypsy curse on the size of its… portfolio.

Considering that nearly all great car manufacturers had cut their teeth building tiny budget cars before moving upmarket, Suzuki’s inability to go beyond its small car niche makes it the living fossil of the motoring world. Stuck in a primordial form it can’t seem to leave. Adding in the fact that Suzuki’s greatest achievements are to be found in its two-wheeled creations, such as the Katana and the legendary Hayabusa doesn’t help its case either. 

All this isn’t to say that Suzuki is the sick man of Japan. Despite seemingly resigned to its fate in the small and affordable end of the market, Suzuki is one of only three mainstream companies in the world that have a long history in producing both cars and motorcycles.

Sure, it might not be producing the sort of cars that people dream about, but that hasn’t affected its bottom line. Considering the fact that Suzuki is in, or near, the top ten largest car manufacturers in the world is worthy of high praise, even if it isn’t making peep in the current news cycle. 

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