Suzuki has hit on a sales winner with the new Vitara, with local boss, Andrew Moore telling PM that the key has been customisation…

SMALL-CAR SPECIALIST Suzuki is riding high on the strength of the new Vitara for which demand is outstripping supply, with sales of up to 600 month, mostly the Turbo models.
But what’s driving this success? Suzuki Australia managing director, Andrew Moore, told Practical Motoring that “customisation” is the answer and that customers can “enjoy dressing up their cars”. For example, he says, black wheels are very popular, as are some of the interior customisation pieces such as trim panels. Sales of such accessories are up 26%, and kits like the Vitara protection pack have a 68% take-up rate, with 40% of buyers choosing to personalise the interior of the car.


This sort of personalisation is nothing new, and in fact the car companies have been very slow on the uptake, with Mini perhaps the pioneer of this in the mainstream automotive space. Outside of the car industry you only have to look at the way phone backs for Nokias used to sell, and now it’s phone covers. Back in the auto industry, the aftermarket is all over the customisation of vehicles too, and now Suzuki has jumped on the bandwagon.
So what sort of accessories are available? Moore says the focus is on: “things that aren’t so much added on, but replaced.”  Examples there would be wheels, grills, chrome exhaust tips and the interior trim panels. There are a few add-ons, notably body kits for the Baleno, but it’s all cosmetic, nothing performance-enhancing.
Such is the success of this new strategy that Moore says: “it’s the first thing we say to all the designers in Japan is personalisation is fantastic, do it on every model!”
That message is not lost on Suzuki corporate, as the design team responsible for the car’s styling now reports directly to the president “so they’re not constrained, there’s a bit more flair”, as distinct from being hamstrung by reporting to the engineering teams who just want unexciting efficiencies. After all, Moore says the “style is the number one reason [people] purchase cars”.  Could there be more to come? “I think you’ll see in the next 18 months Suzuki take it to a new level” and “we’re trying to create local things too”. Rest assured, we’ll be watching!
Another success for Suzuki is the CPS, or Capped Price Servicing they started in 2013. This is popular with carmarkers these days and serves a number of purposes. Moore says the “customer can confidently say that’s what my vehicle will cost me over 5 years”, but of course the CPS is capped, so it doesn’t cover unusual wear or tear, resale value, insurance or other costs – service is just one component of a vehicle’s total cost of ownership. Regardless, from the automakers perspective an important advantage of the programme is that it keeps buyers going back to dealers for servicing instead of leaching business to independents; Moore says that Suzuki’s retention for dealer servcing has gone from 30 to 80%. As an incentive, the company offers to extend the 3-year, 100,000km warranty to 5-year 130,000km if a capped price service regime is followed. So the CPS is a definite win for Suzuki dealers, the customers get what looks like a decent deal, and the only loser is the independent mechanic who might otherwise have got the business. 
Suzuki is one of the increasingly smaller number of manufacturers still producing manual transmissions, offering manuals in the base model Vitara and Baleno, with a possibility of the Turbo Vitara following suit if there’s sufficient demand. Moore estimates that the manual might run at about 10% of sales, and buyers have been asking about it as the car is such fun to drive. We speculate that Suzuki are likely to keep producing manuals as their focus is on manual-loving Europe, so that means the Australian operation can potentially pick up cars for Europe. 
One vehicle that will definitely sell with a manual is the venerable and venerated Jimny. Moore would not be drawn on what is in store for the Jimny, but did say there’s a agreement with the FCAI not to import more than 100 a year as it doesn’t have side airbags. And all sell. We suspect it is highly likely a Jimny update will emerge, and further speculate it’ll be fully independently sprung, still small, and very capable offroad. We can but hope.

We also learned something else about the car buying market. It seems that fewer and fewer people are asking about engine capacity when buying a new car, as the Australian public seems to have finally woken up to the fact that engine displacement is an irrelevant measure of a car’s worth. However, the word “turbo” resonates, which is why it’s mentioned in advertising and is emblazoned across the dash of the Turbo Vitara. Perhaps in time the public will also realise that turbocharging is, like displacement, an irrelevant measure of an engine’s worth, but in the meantime if the word sells a car, it sells a car.

So with new Baleno and new Vitara on the market – who’s buying them? Moore says the Baleno and Vitara now offer an upgrade path from the Swift for loyal Suzuki owners, and the Baleno is targetted at the Mazda 3/Corolla market, particularly the latter as the Toyota car has become larger, heavier and more expensive, leaving a gap Suzuki are only too happy to fill. If you ever see the first-generation RAV4 next to the current model… the lithe, tall and light original RAV has given way to a portly road-oriented bigger version of its older self. It looks like Suzuki don’t intend to make their cars larger, but they do intend to improve spaciousness by engineering for light weight, which means small engines and using more of the car’s length for occupant and storage space. The Baleno has a shorter engine bay than the Swift, for example, despite being the bigger car and when you look under the bonnet you notice something few cars have these days – actual space in the engine bay, which also means easier servicing.
So the Baleno market is clear, but after a few months who’s buying Vitara? Andrew says “Young professionals, also empty nesters. About 28% of buyers for Vitara are existing Suzuki customers. Also seeing some Commodore buyers, downsizing. And Corolla buyers are one of the biggest sources”.
It’s interesting that the Vitara is a SUV, with nominal offroad capability, yet it’s attracting buyers of roadcars. This is no surprise, as we’ve pointed out before that modern SUVs are just as maouverable and fuel-efficient as the roadcar equvialent, and cars like the Vitara are a very real alternative to a roadcar. But whether it’s a roadcar or an SUV, Suzuki seem set to offer you a small car with, as Moore put its, “space and style”.

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  1. HI Robert…

    Your speculation on the Jimny is interesting, particularly if Suzuki decide to make a four door version (or a more capable Vitara) to go head to head with the Jeep Renegade….

    1. Yes that would be very interesting. The Suzuki would be better value than the Renegade, and it’d be a hard ask to make it more capable but if anyone can, it’d be Suzuki.

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