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Suzuki to follow performance path


Suzuki has traditionally been a quiet achiever, with a firm eye on engineering expertise and a keen interest in motorsport.

Now Suzuki president, Hiroshi Tsuda, says the brand is going to make bigger waves in international rallying. He says Suzuki will build more sports-oriented models and there’s a suggestion company might be having a crack at denting Subaru’s long held-reputation for
high-performance Japanese road cars.

When we visited the company’s Hamamatsu headquarters, south of Tokyo, there was nary a whisper about rising fuel prices or mundane low powered cars. The Sport version of the Swift is already in New Zealand showrooms and Suzuki is being unusually vocal about its SX4 challenge well in advance of the 2008 World Rally Championship.

Though the 2.0-litre four-wheel drive SX4 five-door hatchback goes on sale in New Zealand next February, Suzuki is also working on a 150kW high-performance version which is yet to be named.
There will be spin-off from the WRC involvement for the production SX4 sports version, of course, as Suzuki makes a concerted effort to boost the image of its cars.

Hirotaka Ono, a senior Suzuki general manager, told us Suzuki wants to make performance cars that are easy for both professional and beginner drivers. In this respect, he says Suzuki differed from Subaru or Mitsubishi with their high-performance models.

In the 1960s, Suzuki earned its motorsport stripes on two wheels rather than four, with impressive international achievements in motorcycle racing.

Some of the brand’s motorcycle and small car technical expertise has also rubbed off on concept show cars. Remember the stunning little Suzuki sports car concept that appeared a few years back at the Tokyo motor show? Its main talking point was an amazing 1.5-litre V8 engine that everyone hoped would reach production. It never did. Though enthusiastic to the core, Suzuki is also realistic, and clearly the economics of the little V8 didn’t add up.

Although Suzuki has only been producing cars since 1955, its long time profitability is the envy of many rivals. The company expanded into India when other car makers weren’t interested and that project has been such a success that giant Toyota has now joined in.

Suzuki has pledged to shift more engineering and design work to India. Though Suzuki will make the SX4 in China (as well as Japan, Hungary and India), it sees India as being of strategic importance. Suzuki will make a new world car in India to be exported to most world markets. Smaller than the Swift and with more international appeal than a micro like the Alto, this model is bound to come here.

When we were in Japan driving the Swift Sport and equally new SX4, Suzuki’s chairman, Osamu Suzuki, was in India announcing expansion plans for subsidiary Maruti Udyog, India’s largest car maker. From late 2008, Suzuki will build a version of Nissan’s new small world car for Nissan in India. Maruti plans to make 200,000 small cars a year to be sold under the Nissan and Suzuki brands. In less than four years Suzuki expects to be producing around one million cars a year in India, with around 40 percent exported.

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