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Suzuki Canada carries on

Despite bankruptcy of U.S. arm, automaker has no plans to halt car sales here

Published November 9, 2012

“I’ve been in the car business in Canada for thirty years,” said Bill Porter, senior vice president of automobile sales and marketing for Suzuki Canada, “but I’ve never experienced anything quite like this!”

“This” was being called into his company’s boardroom late this past Monday afternoon, along with other Suzuki Canada executives, and being told by Satoshi Shimizu, president of Suzuki Canada, that the board of directors of the parent company in Japan had mere moments before decided that American Suzuki Motor Corporation would be placed into Chapter 11.

That’s “Ameri-speak” for declaring bankruptcy.

The U.S. company is winding down the sale of cars and SUVs stateside, and henceforth will focus on motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and marine products.

Porter instantly knew the word would get out, and rumours would start to fly about how this would impact Canada.

He needed to reassure everyone in his organization — employees, dealers, the banks (upon which the dealers depend for financing their inventories), other suppliers, current and prospective customers — that it will be business as usual for Suzuki Canada: meaning many late-Monday-night phone calls and meetings, plus a media release indicating as much.

“Suzuki is world leader in small, fuel-efficient cars,” noted Porter, “and as such is perhaps better-placed to succeed in Canada than in the United States.

“We have recently refreshed the Grand Vitara compact SUV and SX4 compact crossover, which, along with the SX4 sedan, compete in the two biggest sales segments in Canada.

“We’re especially strong in Quebec, so we’re pretty well set for product for the next couple of years anyway.

“We also have had five consecutive very good months in Canada, and had generated some momentum, so this comes at an unfortunate time for us.”

What about longer-term prospects?

“Of course, there has been North American product planning going on for the medium- and longer-term,” said Porter. “The head office will continue to monitor our sales results over the coming months and years.”

Virtually all cars imported into Canada are built to meet “North American” specifications, largely for crash safety. Canadian and U.S. standards, while not always identical, are very close.

Not having U.S. sales volumes will make it more of a challenge to build a business case for making vehicles that meet our standards, with smaller Canada-only projections.

That adds to the marketing challenge facing Suzuki Canada, but at least they live to fight another day.

I don’t suppose some larger good could come from this. I have always wondered how differently do people die in car crashes in, say, Japan or Luxembourg, as compared to Canada?

Do we really need different standards? Isn’t a tree a tree everywhere in the world?

Would something like this perhaps spur further cooperation amongst governmental safety agencies around the world to come together on such things?

Imagine every market having a much wider range of automotive products to choose from, at lower prices, than they — we — do now.

Anybody see a problem with that?

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