Delayed Suzuki Swift Signals More Troubles

Suzuki is having a difficult time selling its cars in the United States. Though the stylish Kizashi is a clear winner and able competitor with other midsize models, its 2009 arrival came as Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai strengthened their own offerings.

Besides the Kizashi, Suzuki doesn't have much to offer the American car buying consumer. Sales for the year are down by as much as 75 percent when compared to peak levels reached in 2007, not the direction the small-time Japanese automaker needs to head in this tough economy.

SX4 Line

The SX4 line, consisting of compact cars and crossovers alike, is the biggest seller for Suzuki, but not a single model stands out in consumer eyes. What Suzuki needs to do is to return to what worked in the past, namely its subcompact Swift. That car was sold in the U.S. for a time, but discontinued. The third generation model will come out this fall, making its debut in the United Kingdom, but plans for a U.S. introduction have been put off.

Why the delay in introducing the Suzuki Swift? Two come to mind as possibilities including:

Import costs -- The rising value of the yen against the U.S. dollar makes importing the Swift a more expensive proposition. The model has thin profit lines as it is, but with the dollar's value eroding that of the yen, the chances of Suzuki making a profit on selling the Swift seems remote. Unlike other foreign manufacturers, Suzuki does have production capacity in the United States, which means every vehicle sold here is built in Japan.

Volkswagen relationship -- Last year, Volkswagen bought a 20 percent stake in Suzuki, a move made to help it in the subcompact model category as well as to gain access to new markets. Suzuki is one of the top sellers in emerging India, a county where VW's presence is small. Further, Volkswagen is working on clarifying what cars it will be selling in the U.S. Why sell the Swift if a VW model, such as the Polo, is sold here as well?

Suzuki hasn't offered many details about its next generation Swift, but we do know that it will be slightly larger and wider than the outgoing model. However, thanks to the generous use of lightweight materials, the car will be lighter. In addition, the Swift utilize a slightly smaller 1.2-liter engine.

Overall, customers will gain a slightly larger, but more fuel efficient vehicle but when it comes to its U.S. debut, that day is being delayed for now.That's too bad for wounded Suzuki, an automaker in desperate need of some small car mojo.