The first cars Suzuki officially sold in the US were not even under their own name. Marketed here in 1985 as the Chevy Sprint, the tiny three cylinder car was known as the Cultus back home. Hoping to start a cult-like following, Suzuki hit the US Car market under their own name with the hardtop and convertible Samurais as ’96 models. The handling of these two mini-Jeep like vehicles so frightened the testers at Consumer Reports that the magazine branded them with a scarlet letter – upside down of course – and recommended its readers stay away.
That was nearly two decades ago, and it is hard to say whether that black mark on the brand had anything to do with its decision this week to pull its current 4-wheeled offerings out of the US market. Maybe instead it was the fact that those offerings were simply five-years out of step with a rapidly shifting American car market that’s only two-thirds its pre-economic downturn size.
Still, some of the Suzuki cars and trucks weren’t that bad – I mean, if you were looking for something like a Jetta GLI without all the reputational baggage that comes with the Vee-Dub, the Kizashi was, and is, worth considering. But would you buy a car from a company that’s already got its bags packed and the cab driver honking at the curb?
All manufacturers wanting to sell cars here in the US need to maintain parts availability for five-years – likely part of the $46M that Suzuki’s going to need to barrow just to turn out the lights here – so that shouldn’t be too big an issue. And you can bet that the dealers will be cutting some pretty sweet deals to get these dead-man-walking iron off their lots. But is that enough of an incentive? Would you buy a Suzuki car or truck now?