An Open Letter to Suzuki Motor Corporation
An Open Letter to Suzuki Motor Corporation
Who we are
We are an informal group of Suzuki owners and enthusiasts. Our ages range from older teens through middle-age. We come from many income levels and educational backgrounds. We “meet” often on-line and discuss the many ideas we have for the continued use of our Suzuki trucks. Most of us own Samurais (Sierras, Jimnys) and the earlier variants such as the LJ series.
Some also own Vitaras (Sidekicks) . What we all have in common is our appreciation of the kind of vehicle Suzuki has historically produced: light, capable trucks designed primarily for off-road work and recreation.
What’s this document for?
We believe that there is an opportunity for Suzuki Motor Corporation to develop (and in some respects, recapture) a significant market share by taking advantage of a currently under-served market. Increasingly, off-road capable trucks are designed primarily as on-road vehicles: their off-road capabilities are seriously compromised by considering the up-scale suburban market first, and the serious work-and-recreation off-road market last.
It is our opinion that Suzuki is the company best positioned to take advantage of this under-served market. Suzuki’s historic LJ and SJ series vehicles were excellent examples of how a well-designed vehicle can capture a huge global market share. It’s apparent that that market has not vanished, as may be thought.
It has only become largely ignored.
It is our intention to describe the type of vehicle that would better serve those looking for a “no compromises” off-road capable work and recreation truck. We also hope to provide some insight into the market, as we see it, and how a new design would address market
There has historically been a strong market for serious off-road trucks. It appears to have three basic divisions:
Work trucks – those designed for the hauling of cargos, operation of machinery remote from other sources of power, and transport of personnel into less-accessible regions. These range from four-wheel drive pick-up trucks through the Samurai type vehicle to large trucks like the Mercedes Unimog .
Recreational trucks – those generally purchased (often as second or third vehicles) and then modified in varying degrees for everything from camping to rock-crawling to mud runs. Over many years, almost every off-road capable vehicle has been adapted to this purpose. By far, however, vehicles of the Samurai’s basic design plan have been the most popular.
Military trucks – those are often “purpose-designed” for use by military services. Vehicles include everything from the original Willys Jeep through the current Hummer .
It can be seen above that the market for any well-designed off-road capable truck is quite broad. All these segments are likely to adopt it in some manner, so long as it meets their basic requirements. Additionally, all segments will readily “borrow” from designs that
were first aimed for the other segments if the truck is easily adapted to their needs.
Over recent years, most all of the trucks historically designed to serve the markets noted above have either vanished, changed to meet other market demands and, as a result, become much less suited to the original market, or become specialized to the point of having limited applicability. In North America, for example, there is currently only the Jeep Wrangler TJ and to a lesser extent, the Nissan Xterra . offered as off-road trucks for the recreation segment.
Only the relatively expensive Mercedes Unimog truly serves the serious off-highway work segment. And, for the most part, only the HMMV serves the military segment. While this is, admittedly, a North American view, there are similar results in most all other parts of the world.
There are few, if any, purpose-designed, mid-tier off-road capable trucks currently available. In most all cases, one has to “make do” with something designed for another market entirely. Suzuki maintains a “presence” via the Vitara . but the Vitara’s drive train is too light for serious off-road applications.
It also suffers the same fate as most of the other vehicles that are considered to be today’s off-road vehicles, and generally marketed as “SUVs”: independent front (and often rear) suspension. Such a suspension is uniquely un-suited for serious off-road use. Besides the suspension compromise, most all mid-tier vehicles suffer from significant weight, complexity and cost penalties through the addition of “luxury” features added in an attempt to capture a portion of the large market of suburban, up-scale buyers who, truth be told, have absolutely no intention of taking their typically USD30,000-and-up vehicle any further off-road than their driveway.
Jeep continues its long tradition of marketing the Wrangler series vehicles, and have even recognized that there is an additional market segment to be gained by offering the TJ Rubicon Edition . aimed at more serious off-road recreation buyers. Nissan has heavily promoted the Xterra as the answer for the recreationalist looking for a serious vehicle to take him or her into the locations used for more extreme sports. Suzuki, however, seems to have abandoned this market entirely.
Suzuki’s reluctance can certainly be understood, considering the serious problems that it encountered in North America as a result of the Consumer Reports article regarding the alleged “roll over propensity” of the Samurai . It is our contention, however, that Suzuki can successfully introduce a successor to the Samurai not only in North America, but all over the world through a combination of excellent design and targeted marketing. Suzuki may face a unique opportunity in this regard.
Rumors persist that the Wrangler series of vehicles will ultimately be replaced by an IFS vehicle just as the Cherokee has been replaced by the Liberty . There is virtually no other live-axle vehicle currently produced other than Suzuki’s current Sierra in markets outside North America. A new design, begun by Suzuki now, could reach the market at a time when there is little to no competition. Suzuki’s global presence could allow broad sales in markets where the Wrangler series is weak, as well as in North America where there is a market segment being almost entirely ignored.
Broadly, such a vehicle would have to address the short-comings of the Samurai (a vehicle still remarkably well-suited for its intended purpose) while maintaining a basic simplicity: simple to build, simple to maintain, simple to modify and simple to live with, just as the Samurai was at its introduction.
First, focus the thrust of a marketing campaign towards those with active lifestyles. lmages showing the vehicle used to haul sports gear, expedition style off-roading and touring, etc. Nissan has had some success with this for the Xterra .
Second, the vehicle must be given a new name. We suggest bringing back the Brute name that was used on the LJ series trucks in North America in the 1970s. Sierra (Australian name of Samurai ) is already in use by General Motors for their line of light trucks.
The European name Santana does not mean much in North America and does not give the desired effect for a new light off-road truck. Alternatively, depending on the engine used in the new vehicles, something as simple as SJ-420 could be used.
Suzuki really needs to emphasize that this is not just another SUV in a flooded SUV market. This could be a marketing tool for Suzuki to show they can make an industry leading off-road SUV at an affordable price. This would also help to bring creditability to the IFS-equipped Suzukis. To help market the vehicle, Suzuki should establish their own vehicle owners group, such as has been successfully done with the Saturn marque of General Motors.
It helps with word-of-mouth advertising by keeping the owners talking to their friends about the vehicles at the water cooler.
From a packaging and options stand point Suzuki should concentrate on re-using as many existing parts currently in production as possible. For example, re-use the rear axle from the current Grand Vitara XL-7 . The third member for this axle can be used in the design of a new front axle. The 2.0 liter engine in the 4 cylinder Vitara is a fine engine and could also be used.
We see the 4-cylinder engine being more in keeping with the market and simpler to maintain in the long run, although the 2.5 and 2.7 V-6 engines could also be considered. Fuel economy is very important, one of the reasons why we are Suzuki enthusiasts to begin with.
To simplify options, sell the vehicles in pre-configured option groups. These should vary from simple, basic configurations to the hard-core model that many of us ultimately want. There could be perhaps a total of three or four option groups.
Pricing must be competitive with, or better still, undercut the current Jeep Wrangler TJ . By contrast, the Defender 90 has great equipment and options but an outrageous price tag for the market segment we are addressing. While the base model should undercut the Wrangler TJ significantly, it is possible that a hard-core model might equal or exceed the pricing of a TJ . depending on the options included.
In some circles, Suzukis are seen as low-end vehicles that tend to lack creature comforts and power. This is not actually a problem and can potentially play directly into the market that the truck would address. There is no need for power windows and door locks in a vehicle with removable doors and/or that is going to see deep-water crossings.
Suzuki must not market this vehicle directly as a cutesy beach toy for city teenagers as was done with the Samurai in the past. That is a market where there are sales to be made with a base model, perhaps, but you must also engage the serious off-road purchaser. We’ve been collectively shaking our heads at the current marketing campaign for the Aerio (we’d instead like to see an AWD Ignis with rallye-style advertising not unlike that used by Subaru).
Additionally, the current technical marketing campaign used by Volkswagen to market its turbo diesel engine appeals to us as well.
We realize that the marketing of such a vehicle could be an up-hill battle with some segments of the popular media. The Land Rover Defender was reviewed on on the American specialty cable channel Speedvision several months ago and was harshly criticized: lack of creature comforts, noisy, slow, plain styling, dated interior, diesel engine, primitive suspension, etc.
Everything we as offroad enthusiasts love in a vehicle – and essentially all the features in common with our Suzukis – the elitist, motoring journalists hated. This is no big surprise. Given the Defender’s price tag and the motoring journalist’s bias towards on-road vehicles.
We suggest they should stick to reviewing what they know: automobiles. However, they did make mention that the Defender is becoming something of a status symbol in European cities. Sales have increased over the last several years, in spite of what they claimed were its “shortcomings” compared to its more car-like rivals.
We feel this is a point that needs to be made: the marketplace, especially in North America, does not need yet another Sidekick/ Sportage/ Grand Vitara/ Escape/ Amigo/ CRV/
RAV4 . It needs a tough, basic, inexpensive little brute…with a very cool name resurrected from Suzuki’s past: BRUTE!
We’d like to see…
Engine and Electrical
Non-interference (free-rotating) version of current 2.0 16V Suzuki motor, tuned for torque in the low (1000 – 3500) RPM range
Optional diesel, with modified transfer case gearing to suit, similar to the offerings in Europe. A turbo diesel engine in the 90-120 HP range would be ideal
80 amp or larger alternator
Dual battery mounts
High current power connection point front and rear like a Toyota or Isuzu truck, suitable for winches or battery boosting (ie: 50 to 200 amp socket with manual ONLY resettable breaker)
Only complicated electronics should be the EFI ECU. Everything else as simple as possible. Use the General Motors ECU as they are cheap – and Suzuki and GM have a working relationship so this should be possible. the issue here is the cost of the ECU which very important if the truck will be used in deep water.
It is hard to justify a cold spare ECU in you tool box if it is very expensive.
All electronic connectors to be weathertight, and gel sealed where practical
Airbox setup similar to Jeep TJ
Oil/water exchanger (cooler), prefereably thermostatically
Optional on board engine driven air compressor with electric clutch
Gear driven transfer case, no chains or belts
True neutral in transfer case
Strong tcase mounting system
Low range gear box separate from front axle engagement box, bolt together interface would allow owner to stack low range gear boxes to build gearing to suit his off-roading environment
Non-slip yoke outputs (i.e. fixed yokes or flanges)
Real shifter(s) (i.e. no electronic engagement mechanisms)
Separate 2-4WD and Hi-Lo engagement levers as optional equipment
Triple range transfer case (see stackable low range gear boxes above)
Axles and Propellor Shafts
Live axles front and rear (N.B. This is the make or break item for attracting real off-road enthusiasts! If the vehicle does not have live axles front and rear we will NOT buy it!)
Optional full floating rear axle
30 spline axles.
Strong u-joints and propellor shafts throughout
Maximum range extendable telescoping propellor shafts
Very strong birfields or possibly use Dana style u-joints
Heavier differential covers (0.120 min. thickness)
4 wheel disk brakes (n.b. rear drum brakes do not work well in muddy terrain as they cake with mud, can be optional equipment)
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