Everything you need to know about Suzuki

It’s the industry’s Jack of all trades
by Joe Holding | Jul 3, 2021
PHOTO: TopGear.com
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What’s Suzuki, and when did it start making cars?

Suzuki is a car manufacturer, except when it isn’t. It actually makes a lot of things: motorbikes, ATVs, outboard engines for boats...it’s the industry’s Jack of all trades, so to speak.

It began life as far away from cars as you can imagine, founded by Michio Suzuki in 1909 as a manufacturer of looms. The business grew steadily over the next few decades despite economic turmoil in the 1920s, and even though things were going well, Michio had ambitions beyond the weaving industry. In the 1930s, he began experimenting with automobiles, even going as far as building a prototype, but World War II put those plans on hold.

After the war, Suzuki’s decimated business was allowed to resume as plans were drawn up to kick-start the textile business in US-occupied Japan. But demand for looms had dwindled, and by 1954 the company changed tack, becoming Suzuki Motor Company. A year later, its first car—the 360cc, two-stroke Suzulight—went on sale, having been developed by a team containing just six people.

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In 1990, it took on the name Suzuki Motor Corporation, and today it employs tens of thousands of people. All of whom probably owe their livelihoods to the efforts of those initial six.

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Where are Suzukis built, and how many does it build in a year?

Suzuki’s headquarters are located in Hamamatsu (where it also opened a plant in 2018), and the company has domestic facilities in Kosai, Sagara, Osuka, and Iwata. It also has factories in 18 countries outside of Japan, including India, China, Thailand, and several more across Asia, plus Hungary, Brazil, Colombia, and the USA.

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In 2019, the company built around 1,729,000 motorbikes and 2,966,000 cars, with two million of the latter being assembled overseas.

What cars does Suzuki build?

Locally, the smallest car it sells is the Celerio. The company’s lineup has a number of small cars—there’s also the S-Presso, the Dzire, the Swift, and the Ciaz. More utilitarian people-carriers include the APV, the best-selling Ertiga, and the XL7, although if it’s hard-core utility you’re looking for, there’s the Carry and the Super Carry for that.

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Last but not least, of course, are the brand’s SUV offerings: the Vitara, now available with all-wheel drive, and everyone’s favorite little off-roader, the Jimny.

What’s the cheapest car Suzuki sells? And what’s the most expensive?

In the Philippines, that would be the S-Presso—at P523,000, it undercuts the Celerio by P35,000. The most expensive is the Vitara AllGrip, which goes for P1.458 million.

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What’s the fastest Suzuki ever built?

If we’re going on top speed alone, then the fastest Suzuki ever built isn’t a car at all: The Hayabusa sportbike peaked at around 312kph when it was introduced in 1999, shortly before bike manufacturers decided it’d be best if they all limited their machines to 300kph before lawmakers did it for them.

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What’s been Suzuki’s best moment?

Midway through the ’70s, Japanese manufacturers began to overhaul MV Agusta as the undisputed kings of fast motorbikes. Yamaha won its first constructors’ title in the premier 500cc class (now called MotoGP) in 1974, and two years later, Suzuki achieved the same feat. And there it remained until 1982, winning seven championships in a row as the likes of Barry Sheene, Marco Lucchinelli, and Franco Uncini claimed the drivers’ crown in that period.

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Suzuki machinery has also won the motorcycle edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 13 occasions (just one behind record-holder Kawasaki), doing so for the first time in 1982.

What’s been Suzuki’s worst moment?

That has to be the creation of the X-90. In the early ’90s, someone at Suzuki had the bright idea of making a sports car that was easy to live with, and a concept aimed at testing the water for such a vehicle was drawn up for the Tokyo Motor Show in 1993. World, say hello to the X-90.

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Except Suzuki interpreted ‘hello’ to mean ‘what a marvelous thing that we’d all definitely pay money for,’ and so it actually put what can only be described as a two-seater SUV into production. The X-90 was an unmitigated failure: It was slow, rubbish to drive, unrefined, unreliable, and—for a number of reasons—not very practical, either.

The X-90 was a sales flop everywhere and Suzuki killed it off after a year and a half. Today, it’s often found lurking in the middle of ‘worst cars ever’ lists throughout the Internet. Good.

What’s Suzuki’s most surprising moment?

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These days, anything and everything is going electric. You might think it’s a new phenomenon, but Suzuki was doing this stuff more than 40 years ago. In 1970, Suzuki created its first electric car, basing its one-off EV around its Carry Van to be showcased at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. The electric van was used to patrol the venue, and had gauges on the dashboard for remaining charge and amperage. Clearly, it was ahead of its time.

Then, with help from the Musashi Institute of Technology, it went one further in 1979 by adapting its two-stroke-engined Cervo coupe for hydrogen fuel. Dubbed the Musashi III, it produced no tailpipe emissions and could reach speeds of 117kph. Both cars are now on display at the Suzuki History Museum in Hamamatsu.

What’s the best concept Suzuki built?

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Google the phrase ‘Suzuki concept car’ and you’ll be scrolling for an awfully long time. If some manufacturers have a soft spot for concept vehicles, Suzuki has an addiction.

In the last decade alone, we’ve seen the Regina concept, the Crosshiker, the X-Lander and Hustler concepts, the Air Triser and Mighty Deck concepts, the Waku SPO and Hanare concepts, and the student-drawn Misano concept, among many, many others. So you can take your pick when it comes to the best ever Suzuki concept.

For us, it’s hard not to love the Jimny Sierra Pickup Style of 2019: It had chunkier tires, winch hooks, and LED spotlights, and was designed for people who enjoy “DIY and other hobbies.” Sadly, it never made production—probably because Suzuki had learned its lesson from the X-90.

Tell me an interesting fact about Suzuki.

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How do you drum up attention as a carmaker? These days, it’s all about social media and collabs (probably), but back in the ’60s, all you had to do was drive very fast on a public road.

And that’s exactly what Suzuki did with the Fronte SS in 1968. To demonstrate its abilities, the company hired renowned racing driver Stirling Moss and motorcycle rider Mitsuo Ito to drive the Autostrada del Sol—a 744km route with very few speed limits between Milan and Naples—as quickly as possible. The first 544km to Rome were chalked off in four hours and 27 minutes, and the pair completed the challenge at an average speed of 120kph, generating headlines around the globe.

NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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