There was a time when any casual observer could be excused for thinking that Suzuki only manufactured motor cycles. After all, that fearless track ace, Kevin Schwantz, regularly grabbed all the media headlines with his two-wheeled heroics aboard his World Championship-winning Suzuki number 34.
But the reality is that a company which was created in 1909 by Michio Suzuki to manufacture weaving looms, produced its first motorcycle in 1952, and three years later the newly-named Suzuki Motor Co. appropriately unveiled its first car dubbed the Suzulight with front wheel drive and all-independent suspension.
The model nomenclature accurately reflected the company’s focus on the production of small cars powered by small engines, a trend which soon extended into commercial vehicles with the introduction in 1959 of a tiny delivery vehicle named the Suzulight 360cc.
Clean-air proponents would doubtless recoil at the thought that this same two-stroke engine would power a number of four-wheeled derivatives – including 4×4 versions – right through the 60s when the motorcycle division was booming, but come the 70s, and the emissions levels of those two-strokes attracted the unwanted attention of regulators. Ironically, 1970 marked the arrival of Suzuki’s first electric car.
In the meantime, Suzuki committed to a new car plant in Kosai from which emerged, in 1970, a most significant 4×4 model range carrying model identifier, LJ10. This model series, notwithstanding the continued use of that smokey 360cc two-stroke engine, was to be the forerunner of the iconic Jimny and was to stay in production until 1981 when it was superseded by the SJ Series that truly heralded the arrival of the Jimny.
The LJ series reflected Suzuki’s philosophy that dictated ‘a vehicle that can take on rough roads and go to places that cars couldn’t go in the past’ and marked the birth of ALLGRIP, Suzuki’s branded 4WD system, as well as an ongoing adherence to lightweight but rugged construction and simple styling execution.
By the end of the 70s, it became obvious that larger, cleaner engines would be needed if the brand were to extend its appeal into foreign markets, and Australia in particular, so an 800cc four-stroke motor was crammed under the bonnet.
Its instant success in Australia was soon replicated in Europe where a whole new market for small, fun recreational vehicles was pioneered by Suzuki. But it was the SJ series that really gained traction overseas for Suzuki who introduced a 1.3 litre engine coupled to a 5-speed gearbox in 1984.
Four years later, the now familiar Vitara with 1.6 litre lightweight engine, burst onto the scene and provided a more comfortable drive thanks to the fitment of coil springs and the introduction of power steering. Bigger derivatives followed along with the Grand Vitara moniker which still prevails in 2018, the year which marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Vitara model name.
In the meantime, Suzuki showed remarkable foresight by making a foray into the Indian market where, in partnership with Maruti, the company subsequently established itself as the country’s biggest brand with a market share exceeding 50%. Once again, the “simple and sensible” approach adopted by Suzuki’s founding fathers has been reaping rich rewards, a trend particularly evident in markets where complexity may well be disadvantageous.
1998 was a landmark year for Suzuki as it marked the introduction of a completely redesigned Jimny which featured separate dampers and coil springs up front in addition to a new three-link rigid rear axle and ladder frame together with air-locking hubs that facilitated switching from two to four-wheel drive on the move.
In the following years, the Japanese manufacturer looked to model expansion as a means to gain greater traction in global markets. The domestic market model range, mostly endowed with strong Oriental styling cues and powered by tiny engines, simply wouldn’t cut it in external markets, so along came the all-new seven-seater SJ410 complete with a fresh 1.0 litre engine and styling more aligned to European tastes.
Even the American market came onto Suzuki’s radar but in a ‘horses for courses’ move, the marketing gurus realised that displacement really mattered in North America so a powerful 3.6 litre V6 found a home in the Grand Vitara XL7 along with electronically-controlled AWD.
Nearer to home, it has probably been the much-loved Swift that has cemented Suzuki’s position in Mzansi but that recently-refreshed model range is now surrounded on the showroom floor by a host of models appealing to a broad cross-section of buyers. Consider if you will that Suzuki Auto South Africa was only established a mere decade ago and with two Brand of the Year awards under its belt, its line-up includes Swift, Celerio, Jimny, Dzire, Baleno, Ignis, Ciaz, Ertiga, Vitara and Grand Vitara.
Then of course there are the Suzuki-branded motorcycles and marine engines that have made their mark the world over but for us, it’s the cars that are the stars as encapsulated in the corporate slogan: ‘Small cars for a big future.’
Suzuki’s design philosophy ‘is not to be affected by trends, but rather to build a timeless shape.’ Chief Engineer, Naoyuki Takeuchi
Suzuki has won the Australian Canstar Blue Award for Most Satisfied Customers – Small Cars, for three years in a row, earning five stars for overall satisfaction, reliability and value for money
The Group makes efforts to promote ‘smaller, fewer, lighter, shorter and neater’ on every side