Suzuki Australia is hopeful of returning to somewhere approaching market leadership in the booming small SUV market from the middle of 2015 when it launches the production Suzuki iV-4.
The launch of the iV-4 — its production name is unclear, though a return of the Vitara badge and all the equity contained therein is not out of the question — will put Suzuki in the unique position of offering three divergent vehicles in the small SUV space, currently one of the bright spots in a weakening overall new vehicle market.
Before the small SUV boom of recent years, Suzuki was entrenched at the small end of the market. In the 1990s, the Sierra and Vitara were major players, and owned a big chunk of a comparatively small pie.
The three vehicles in question will be the existing Nissan Qashqai-rivalling S-Cross, the more rugged iV-4 (pictured top and below in concept guise) and the reborn Jimny Sierra, which will return to the market in the next few months almost unchanged after being discontinued, but now equipped with electronic stability control.
This model spread will give the company good coverage of the entry small SUV segment of that market, which is up 14.5 per cent overall so far this year and continues to poach sales from the light-car market that is down 12 per cent over the same period.
According to Suzuki Australia general manager of automobiles Andrew Moore, the as-yet unseen production iV-4 has the goods to lead the company to a position at the pointy of the market, abetted by much-improved supply of the S-Cross out of Hungary, something that had crippled that car early this year.
The iV-4 concept first seen in Frankfurt last year was 4.2 metres long, about a foot shorter than the Grand Vitara. Excitingly, CarAdvice understands from various sources that the production version will stay relatively true to the concept design, giving the company a welcome splash of style.
“After seeing the production prototype in Japan I’m very confident about the car,” Moore said. “I think we can grow sales significantly, [which could] potentially put us in a bit of a leadership position in that segment.
“The iV-4 concept is great looking, having one of the sexiest cars in the segment will appeal to younger buyers moving into small SUVs from light-cars.”
Chief rivals will be the Holden Trax and Nissan Juke, Moore added, though the AWD iV-4 will be more rugged and off-road capable than that pair. Power will likely come form the S-Cross’s 88kW/156Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine and possibly an 88kW/320Nm Fiat diesel.
The other side to the equation in the five-door space is the softer and lower S-Cross, launched at the start of this year. So far sales have not come close to the 500 sales per month target laid down by Moore’s predecessor Tony Devers, a result not helped by lack of supply from the Magyar plant in Hungary.
But with a freer flow now coming out of Eastern Europe — though the long five-month lead time for orders still has pitfalls — Moore is confident of levelling of at 300 monthly sales from here on it (it did 240 units in June, the best figure so far).
And while we are still up to 12 months away from seeing the iV-4, Moore is confident that car will do “significantly more”. Like the S-Cross, the iV-4 will be made at Magyar.
When asked if the car could wear the Vitara badge, Moore said it would get whatever global name Suzuki opted for, so even if Suzuki Australia wanted it, it would need global approval.
Considering the Holden Trax did just over 700 units in June the iV-4 and S-Cross combined will have figures at the pointy end, though likely not enough to match Subaru (XV), Nissan (Juke and Qashqai) and Hyundai (ix35).
Puzzle piece number three is the Jimny (pictured above), which will return in quarter three of 2014 with ESC and a very mild stylistic update. The formula will be the same as before, but there remains a market for a cheap, cheerful and rugged baby SUV in this mould, Moore insists, pointing out its dealers get several enquiries a month still.
One thing is clear: small SUVs are booming, and Suzuki from this time next year will have plenty of options to capitalise. Time will tell how it fares.