By Morgan Campbell / Toronto Star Business Reporter
Half a decade ago Suzuki, the Japan-based manufacturer best known for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, reported solid automobile sales in Canada. Riding the stable popularity of models like the compact Swift and Grand Vitara SUV, the company sold more than 13,000 cars in Canada in 2008.
But since then sales have dropped sharply. By 2011, Suzuki sold only 5,600 cars in Canada. By last year that figure had fallen to 5,500.
On Tuesday the company confirmed what its dealers had known for months by announcing it would phase out car sales in Canada. While sales of motorcycles and other vehicles will continue, Suzuki will stop selling new cars in Canada after the 2014 model year.
“The minimum time to transition is 12 months, but it could be longer than that,” says Suzuki Canada spokesperson Bill Porter. “Theoretically, we’ll have 2014s until the end of calendar year 2014. That’s the time frame we’re looking at.”
The move affects more than 20 dealers in Ontario selling Suzuki cars. Each retailer will have to decide whether to shut down, sell Suzuki’s other products or align itself with another auto manufacturer.
James Youssef, general sales manager at Mississauga Suzuki, says the dealership will sell Suzuki motorcycles and is also considering selling Subaru automobiles.
After five years of selling Suzuki automobiles, he wishes he didn’t have to make the switch.
“They’re terrific cars,” Youssef says. “It’s very rare to hear about a recall or any problems with the engines. But the market’s not supporting them.”
Tuesday’s move mirrors the one Suzuki made in November 2012, when it announced it would phase out auto sales in the U.S.
Porter emphasized that Suzuki owners with automobiles still under warranty still have options for getting them serviced. He said every current Suzuki dealer will be offered the opportunity to become a Suzuki parts supplier after the phase-out, and would be authorized to perform repairs covered by warranties.
“We want the parts replaced with genuine Suzuki parts,” Porter says. “We’ve made a commitment to our customers… and we know people still want to buy parts for service of the vehicle.”
Suzuki sold more than 10,000 motorcycles and marine vehicles in Canada last year, and Porter says the company plans to focus on growing those aspects of its business.
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