Survival forces Suzuki into strategic alliance with Toyota for Swace
Things are tough at present across the entire motor industry but, writes Iain Robertson, the deal between Suzuki and Toyota was struck long before the pandemic did and is a prime example of the ploys some carmakers must allude to.
Collaborations can be essential business survival tools in some industries. The specialist garage trade, which has been hit hard by the Chinese virus, is one that is going to rely increasingly on formulating associations with potential rivals to ride out future negative issues. If it does not, boarded-up premises will feature as heavily in small enterprise developments, as department stores in city centres. There is little point in candy-coating a potentially grim situation.
Yet, liaisons, while uncommon, have allowed some intriguing product developments around the motor industry. Some have been unlikely and even unholy partnerships, while others have spawned unwarranted growth. The inevitability of cross-pollination within car groups, such as Volkswagen, which may have commenced with logical shared platform strategies, has resulted in largely identical products that are starting to lose their brand identities, which is not a good outcome.
On the other hand, Renault’s similar programme with Nissan has led to the Dacia success, while also saving the Japanese firm from crushing losses. Daihatsu used to produce compact Subarus and the Volvo and Mitsubishi association in Holland was fruitful for several years, before the factory was turned over to producing the shared platform smart car and Renault Twingo models.
It is easy to be glib, perhaps even dismissive, about ‘badge-engineered’ projects, after all, when the UK’s own British Leyland Motor Corporation was creating identical but best-selling Austin and Morris versions of an car that was also carrying MG, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas badged alternatives, cynicism was understandably rife. Now, Suzuki is bearing the fruits of a not dissimilar operation carried out in conjunction with Toyota, at its Burnaston plant, near Derby, England. While the former’s version of the Japanese-built RAV4 has already been announced, the prospect of British-built Suzukis based on one of the world’s best-selling Toyota Corolla models may present nationalistic legs.
Suzuki has a problem. You might ask fairly, why it had not addressed the issues related to meeting fuel economy and exhaust emissions requirements somewhat earlier than it has done but marketing flim-flam seldom produces truthful responses. The company sliced through its product range dramatically last year, removing the simply outstanding 1.0-litre ‘triple’ turbo-petrol engine from across its model line-up, while dropping both the spacious Baleno and city-car Celerio models. Harried into the production of mild hybrid electrified cars, it has also whacked up considerably the list prices of its remaining models and entered the alliance with the Toyota giant.
However, Suzuki’s first-ever ‘British’ model could produce some intriguing local market interest. It would be a good way for the company to justify its (up to now) expensive ‘fleet’ operation, as a Corolla-based model could make an interesting business vehicle proposition, even though Suzuki is a brand that can scarcely be recognised as anything more than a value proposition in most quarters. It has an undoubted mountain to climb that is going to demand levels of guile considerably beyond what its current talent pool might allow, as dealing with the company car sector is an almighty expensive gesture.
The amount of detail alterations between the donor vehicle and the new, strangely-named Swace are minimal and amount to a new front bumper moulding that incorporates the Suzuki ‘guppy-gob’, new upholstery patterns, different alloy wheel designs, a Suzuki branded touch-screen in the dash centre and Suzuki ‘S’ logos mounted on plinths both externally and within the new model. That’s it. That’s your lot.
Beneath the Toyota skin is the familiar 96.5bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine, mated to a 71bhp electric motor for a combined total of around 122bhp (I realise that it is a sum that does not add up conventionally but that is how the unit is rated). It is worth noting that the punchier 188bhp 2.0-litre alternative is not in the mix as yet, which is a pity, as motivating a 1.44-tonne estate car would be a lot easier with the latter unit. Still, donning an eco-warrior’s hat, the Swace can cover the 0-60mph dash in around 10.9s, before topping out at around 112mph. Speed is not really a consideration, although a sub-100g/km (at 99g/km) CO2 emissions rating was the aim and up to 62.8mpg aids Suzuki’s fiscal target.
Having driven the Corolla extensively, I can tell you that it is an excellent car that actually possesses good street presence, being low, wide and lean in appearance. Its on-road stance is balanced and stable, with superb suspension, steering and braking dynamics. Sturdy build quality is confidence inspiring and, with a boot space of 596-litres (rear seats in use) and up to 1,606-litres, when the back seats are folded completely flat and without a transverse ridge to overcome, it is a most practical family, or business estate car.
It is worth noting that the Toyota hybrid technology has 20 years of dependable history and, while its EV-only range is restricted to less than one mile at speeds lower than 30mph, as long as the battery is fully charged, the car can run on self-generated electricity alone across its speed range, with the petrol engine topping-up the Nickel-Metal hydride battery pack as required. Unless the driver is monitoring the appropriate energy flow graphic, it is seamless and indiscernible from one power source to the other.
Needless to say, a full complement of ADAS technology is included in the package, with crash mitigation, blind spot monitoring, auto-parking, distance cruise and auto-braking as core features. Overall, the Swace is a decent car reliant on a decent car. As an estate car only, it fits well with Suzuki’s current model line-up, although 4WD is not an option at this stage. At a price suggested in the region of £30,000, it is not as cost-effective as Suzuki used to be, which may be part of the reasoning behind realignment of its list prices.
Conclusion: Being positive about this association is important to Suzuki. Whether it will work out for the company remains to be seen, even though there are some practical benefits, prime of which is being British-made.