Suzuki GBs top-spec Swift

Suzuki GB's top-spec Swift

New Suzuki GB boss Yoshinobu Abe, four months into his job, is taking his time to study the UK operations as he works out how to move the brand forward.

“There’s a gap between customer perception of Suzuki and the reality of where the Suzuki car brand is today,” he told just-auto at the launch of the new Swift.

Suzuki’s global sales are 2.3m automobiles – making it the 10th largest global player - and 3m motorcycles yet people associate the company with small 4x4s, he said.

Abe is a 30-year Suzuki veteran who has worked for the company in New Zealand and North America; this is his first European posting. 

He said that he first became aware of the reality gap when he was in Canada  in the 1990s where the perception was that Suzuki sold only small 4x4s and not much else at a time when the company had a range of cars including 2.6-litre-engined saloons competing with the likes of the Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus.

He believes that not much has changed in the intervening years.

Abe, managing director of automobile and corporate operations for Suzuki GB, is on a tour of the UK dealer network and studying the market closely before making his plans.

But he has had time to assess the government-backed scrappage scheme which he criticises, although Alto did very well for Suzuki in the UK.

“I arrived just as scrappage finished- it was terrible because it created artificial demand and now people expect continued discount; some manufacturers can’t afford to do that,” he said.

While he ponders how to raise Suzuki’s brand awareness and close the gap between perception and reality, Abe is clear that customer service and product reliability will always remain the two most important factors.

“We need to cherish our existing customers and retain them; our vision is very customer focused and we need to educate our dealers to do that too.”

New Swift – built in Hungary - went on sale in the UK from 1 September and will then be rolled out across the rest of Europe.

It looks very similar to current Swift although everything about it is new. Chief designer Tetsuya Ozara said “our customer expectations were for evolution not revolution.” The idea was to take Swift from ‘dynamic and stable’ to ‘dynamic and energetic’.

Work on the car’s design started in Europe (Suzuki has a five-strong design facility in Turin) before being finalised in Japan. Chief engineer Naryuki Takeuchi said chassis development was carried out in Germany, the UK, Finland and Spain, so this is very much a European-inspired car.

At its heart are a new 1.2-litre petrol engine (K12B) and a new 1.3-litre diesel engine (D13A). Fuel consumption on the petrol unit has been improved by 16% over the outgoing 1.3-litre engine to 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and by 7% on the diesel unit to 67.3mpg.

The K12B engine is also available with auto stop-start in some European markets but not yet for the UK where “it is under consideration” according to a Suzuki insider.

CO2 emissions for the petrol engine are 116g/km; stop-start lowers this to 113g/km; the diesel unit emits 109g/km which is 10g/km fewer than the previous generation.

New Swift is 90mm longer, 10mm higher and 5mm wider than the outgoing model and has a 50mm longer wheelbase which has helped to improve the ride and handling.

Production is at Magyar Suzuki in Hungary where the Esztergom factory, which started production in 1992 and has since built 1.5m Suzukis including Wagon R+, Ignis, SX4 and Splash, is scheduled to build around 100,000 Swifts a year for Europe with around 10,000 of those destined for the UK.