The rise and rise of Suzuki SA
Brendon Carpenter, manager: brand marketing, talks to Phuti Mpyane about keeping the momentum going
Suzuki SA opened its account in 2020 with a new record, selling more cars, commercial vehicles and SUVs than ever before.
The 1,632 Suzukis sold in January is a huge jump of 61.4% over the same month last year and beats its previous record set in October 2019.
Suzuki’s passenger vehicles and SUVs took the lion’s share of all sales, with the Swift (824 new units) and the Jimny (189 units) leading the pack. The Swift was the sixth best-selling passenger vehicle in SA.
Phuti Mpyane: What is Suzuki’s vision as a brand?
Brendon Carpenter: Suzuki’s strategy then, now and going forward has always hinged on striving to provide value, the right product and at the right price to the customer.
PM: In the past it was easy to define Suzuki’s vision and value proposition, but how will the brand redefine the value proposition in the electric age?
BC: It’s an interesting question as it’s a topic we are toiling with as we ask how the motoring landscape will look like in the next five to 10 years, and how does this affect our change. If you look at Suzuki as a brand, it’s never been a pioneer brand. We are not a brand that goes out there and introduces or embraces new technology as quickly.
WE ENSURE THAT WHEN WE INTRODUCE ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES THEY ARE AFFORDABLE, USABLE AND RELIABLE
It may come off negatively when I say we are a “follower” brand but we ensure that when we introduce advanced technologies they are affordable, usable and reliable for the customer.
PM: So, in a nutshell, you’ll be refining Tesla batteries and selling them cheaply?
BC: Perhaps, you never know but with that said, there’s a lot of ongoing research where new propulsion systems are concerned and the recent technology share agreement between Suzuki and Toyota for electric drive expertise will yield some direction going forward.
It must be said that though the brand is still behind the wave when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs), nevertheless Suzuki did produce an electric van back in the 1970s. Our first obligation is towards the customer as the push to electric drive continues.
PM: Allow me to take small step backwards, to 2019. How was the year for Suzuki SA and what can you pick as a momentous point in the year?
BC: For us, it was proof, if I can put it that way because we had a great 2018 and a really great 2017 as well. Last year simply showed us that continuous growth can be sustainable. In 2019 we registered close to a 50% growth in sales, while now in January 2020 we increased by 61% over the same period in 2019.
PM: Yes indeed and seemingly Suzuki is now a permanent feature in the top 10 selling brands. Is there an extraordinary change that you can attribute this rise to?
BC: It’s a number of reasons, such as how we have included new products in new segments where we never had representation. Customers are also becoming more open-minded in their choices, opting for our cars instead of competitor brands as well as the expansion of our dealer network. Also, factor in that Suzuki customers remain loyal to the brand and thus repeat business has helped in this regard.
PM: In 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 Suzuki won brand of the year at CarsAwards, after which Toyota took it. Was this an indication of “dropping the ball” in customer satisfaction, so to speak?
BC: Never! We would never allow for that to happen. Those two awards gave us so much to live up to, especially in our staff training straight after the win. We became mindful of the reality that customers were going to walk into our dealers demanding brand of the year service levels.
But I think not winning the award afterwards doesn’t reflect on us having sat on our laurels but it was the other manufacturers starting to step up customer satisfaction. The good thing is that Suzuki has always been among the top three contenders to win that award since the inception of these awards.
THE JIMNY IS INDESCRIBABLE AND IT DOESN’T CONFORM TO ANY STEREOTYPICAL DESCRIPTION
PM: Fabulous. What we can look forward to in 2020?
BC: From a product point of view there’s the new S-Presso, which is an important vehicle for us. We want to bring our Suzuki values into a new segment for us.
PM: Is it classified as a hatch or crossover; what is it?
BC: We liken it as more of a mini-SUV.
PM: Aren’t you describing the Jimny?
BC: No! The Jimny is indescribable and it doesn’t conform to any stereotypical description you and I know. The Jimny is more of a tiny 4x4 while the S-Presso is a mini-SUV because it’s a little more practical. It’s coming to compete with more space, better ground clearance, look and feel in the budget segment.
PM: Let’s deal with a rising situation. Reports suggest Suzuki might cull the Jimny due to its messing about with the brand’s emissions averages. Are you able to comment on this matter?
BC: Yes, that’s more related to other markets like Europe where they have stricter emissions regulations. And yes, the sales of Jimny were on hold due to it not complying with the latest euro emissions.
I’m confident it will not get the chop as it’s a heritage model. You can’t separate the Jimny from Suzuki. The company would rather refine it and make it compatible with regulations than to kill off a 50-year-old icon.