American Suzuki Motor Corp. has announced that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and end its automotive business. The company will wind down and cease selling cars in the United States, and focus its efforts on its much more successful motorcycle, ATV, and marine divisions. Suzuki will continue to honor all warranties, and parts and service will still be provided through the company’s parts and dealer network.
To anybody who watches the automotive world, this is hardly surprising news. Suzuki’s car sales have been hampered for years by a lack of consumer awareness of its products, a poor distribution network, and a reputation for cheap, disposable cars. While the company has made inroads elsewhere in the world, the brand has failed to capitalize on its lineup of small, inexpensive, and fuel-efficient cars, despite market trends that currently favor such vehicles. The brand’s only significant vehicle, the small midsize Kizashi sedan, has won critical acclaim, but hasn’t found enough buyers to keep the company’s car sales afloat.
Suzuki’s first car in the United States was actually sold in 1985 under the Chevrolet nameplate. The Suzuki Cultus was known as the Chevrolet Sprint in the U.S., and its combination of extremely good fuel economy and a rock-bottom price ensured that the little hatchback found a surprising number of buyers. In 1986, Suzuki started selling the Samurai subcompact SUV in the U.S. The little sport utility’s compact dimensions and cute styling were a hit, and the Samurai helped Suzuki break the record for the best first-year sales of any Japanese automaker. However, a much-publicized test by Consumer Reports appeared to show that the little Samurai was prone to rolling over. Although Suzuki sued and the case was eventually settled out of court, Samurai’s sales never recovered.
Despite the setbacks, Suzuki continued to grow in the U.S., although never at the pace set by its Japanese peers. In 2004, Suzuki partnered with General Motors to purchase the bankrupt Korean manufacturer Daewoo, and subsequently expanded its U.S. sales with models like the Suzuki Firenza, Verona and Reno hatchback. Sales rose to more than 100,000 by mid-decade, but by the end of the decade GM had bought out Suzuki’s share in Daewoo, starting a dive in sales year over year. Last month, the carmaker struggled to move 2,000 vehicles out the door; less than half what Toyota managed to sell every day.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that the Suzuki Kizashi remains a pretty solid car. We’re betting that you’ll be able to pick up a screaming deal on one as Suzuki winds down its car business. In the meantime, if you’re already a Suzuki owner and have questions, you can contact the company’s hotline at (877) 465-4819