Suzuki like Honda had built a positive reputation for Motorcycles, achieved while winning a class at the Isle of Man TT in 1962. Motorcycle sales started soon afterwards and with along Kawasaki and Honda bikes became familiar sights on UK roads. Suzuki had a fledgling car industry, having started car production in 1955, specialising in small cars and mini-trucks. Suzuki imported four evaluation models to the UK in 1974, the Fronte Saloon, Fronte GX coupe, a L60 minivan and a LJ 4×4. There was some hope that the Department of Environment would pass the cars to conform to British regulations and sell the cars via the existing motorcycle dealer networks. It was only in 1979 when another concerted effort by British importer Heron Suzuki, that Suzuki passenger cars become officially available to the UK public. The tiny ST90 Carry series minivans also started imports that year, which provided Suzuki valuable sales to the small business market. The first car, the long lived Cervo based SC100 ‘Whizzkid’ featured a rear mounted 3 cylindered 1 litre engine. It weighed just 660kg and offered 90mph to be reached. Again much interest in the press was raised, and the cars eventually developed a following. Just under 4,700 examples were shipped into the UK over its 3 year import. Another model to arrive in the UK soon afterwards, was the The LJ series of small jeeps, they were more recreational rather than serious work horses but as farmers and off-roaders discovered they were competent off-road vehicles and helped establish Suzuki as the main supplier of small compact off-road vehicles. The more conventional small hatchback FWD Alto range was launched in 1981, while its styling was considerable more sober than the SC100. Sales of the Alto were a tickle compared to it’s main larger engined rivals, usually registering sround 1,500 examples a year but provided Suzuki with a single model passenger car presence throughout the 80’s but the 4WD LJ, SJ and later Vitara models allowed Suzuki to remain a profitable proposition in the UK. Further passenger models, such as the 3 cylinder Swift appeared as a turbo GTI model for a period in the 80’s.
From the late 80’s, Suzuki capatalised on the 4×4 street trends and placed emphasis on custom parts like large chrome wheels to cater for the users who would generally not use the car off road. Despite this spike in sales, Suzuki offered a relatively low level of new models throughout the 90’s, with a curious mixture of very cheap Hungarian assembled cars (which had become known for being assembled all over the world under different badges) and a selection of Jimny (successor to the SJ) and other 4WD vehicles. Suzuki success can also be measured by their collaboration with many motoring manufacturers over the years, including GM, Fiat, Nissan and Mazda who all essentially sold Suzuki cars under their names. The GM connection is particularly lucrative, as it sells versions of Suzuki’s across the whole of Asia. Both the Wagon R, was an upright almost box design with 5 doors (a common design practice in Japan) and the Suzuki Carry van were also sold with GM badges for European consumption. A new Swift model was released in the mid 2000’s and was a marked improvement over the previous generations. The relative success of Suzuki in Japan (it was the largest builder of kei cars) has largely gone largely unnoticed in Europe, as the Kei car was considered too small for European tastes despite the obvious advantages. It was this relatively limited range of cars that caused US sales of Suzuki’s sales to plummet to all time lows and forced the company to pull out of the American market in 2011. The SC100 is highly collectable today, with around 100 surviving examples in the UK, helped by an active owners club. The 410 also exists in reasonable numbers, due to their long (still current) production run.
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