With a strong - and growing stronger - light commercial vehicle market in Australia, Suzuki Australia would love to add an 'Aussie-spec ute' to its showroom.
The problem, however, is that Suzuki simply doesn’t have one. Or, at least, among its range of micro-trucks (sold mostly in emerging markets in Asia), there is no product suitable for the Australian market.
Speaking with TMR at the recent launch of the new Vitara, Suzuki Australia General Manager, Andrew Moore, expressed his desire for "a commercial ute" for the Australian Suzuki line-up.
“We’ve been saying to the factory, Suzuki reliability in a commercial ute would be fantastic, but other markets like Japan and Indonesia and so forth basically use cab-chassis APV type vehicles.”
“The vehicles that we could get access to, as utes, are really tiny truck-utes.” Mr. Moore explained.
While Suzuki’s light APV van holds its own in the Australian market, sitting middle of the pack in the light van segment ahead of the Fiat Doblo and Citroen Berlingo, there is no equivalent light ute or truck competitor here in Australia.
Small utes like the Subaru Brumby and Proton Jumbuck have filled a niche for buyers, but while the Brumby is now a sought-after collectable, their market share could only be described as niche at best.
Suzuki's past attempts at a small ute include the Mighty Boy, a kei car with a 550cc engine and a tiny open load-bed. Like the Brumby, it has developed something of a cult following in Australia (there are some out there with V8s shoehorned in).
It also offered a cab chassis version of the Sierra; also sold here as the Holden Drover during the 1980s.
That Sierra link is the likeliest contender for a cab-chassis, based off the next generation Jimny, but, once again, the numbers game stands in the way.
“We’ve been talking about it. New Zealand do some conversions, but it’s not big volumes so it's not something we’ll see.” Said Mr. Moore.
“We’ve asked them [Suzuki] to provide it but it’s a difficult thing to do, and in reality we’d probably only sell five to ten a month.”
“In the majority of cases, it’s a workhorse and owners want to fit more in it, so it’s hard to justify, and if we’ve got lower volumes, it’s hard to get economies of scale, so you may end up smaller, but at a similar price [to larger utes].”
No such product-sharing arrangement exists for Suzuki however. Previously customers in the United States were offered the Suzuki Equator, based off the previous generation Nissan Frontier (sold here as the Navara).
That product came to an end when Suzuki pulled out of the US market in 2012. The Equator didn’t see sales outside of North America, and no second generation version is on the agenda.
“You see a lot of Suzuki stickers, from Suzuki motorbikes, on the back of Toyota utes, and all those guys would love to have a Suzuki ute.”
“Where Suzuki is at at the moment, they’re just not in the market for making a large ute.” Mr. Moore conceded.
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