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(ELOY ALONSO/REUTERS)
(ELOY ALONSO/REUTERS)

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Suzuki Canada prepared to go it alone Add to ...

Most car makers say they cannot afford to bring in even one vehicle specific to Canada, if the United States doesn’t want it. Suzuki Canada insists it will keep offering an entire Canada-only lineup of cars and trucks, even though Suzuki’s U.S. arm confirmed early this week that it’s getting out of the automotive business in that country.

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Over the past decade, most industry watchers have noted the ominous signs of Suzuki Canada’s shrinking market presence, its greying vehicle lineup and its shrinking list of Canadian dealers, similar to what has happened in the United States. In announcing its decision to only sell motorcycles, ATVs and marine equipment, American Suzuki Motor Corp, said the company faced a number of challenges, ones it ultimately decided that it couldn’t overcome.

“These challenges include low sales volumes, a limited number of models in its lineup, unfavorable foreign exchange rates, the high costs associated with growing and maintaining an automotive distribution system in the continental U.S. and the disproportionally high and increasing costs associated with stringent state and federal regulatory requirements unique to the U.S. market,” the U.S. company said.

Suzuki Canada faces all these same challenges in the Canadian market, given the near total alignment of the government vehicle emissions, crash and safety standards in the two countries. Plus in Canada, there’s a larger geographic territory for a smaller pool of car buyers, and two official languages in which to advertise and market its four-wheeled vehicles.

In a statement released this week, Suzuki Canada said it has no plans to discontinue new automobile sales in Canada, nor of entering any sort of court-supervised bankruptcy restructuring, as American Suzuki has done.

“Our two volume vehicles, the SX4 (especially the iAWD Hatchback) and Grand Vitara, are perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and I think that it is common knowledge that Canadians purchase smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles versus the American consumers, which fits nicely into our product offering,” Bill Porter, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Suzuki Canada, wrote in an e-mail this week, when asked how the firm expects to sell an entire lineup of Canada-only vehicles.

Porter acknowledges that the list of challenges may appear similar, but points out the company has experienced sales increases (of 1.4 per cent) in Canada this year, unlike in the United States.

He also notes that Suzuki Canada is a direct subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corp. in Japan, and not a division of American Suzuki, and that staff levels at the company have not varied much from 100 or so workers in the past six years.

“The decision has been made by our head office in Japan based on the business results to continue the Canadian operations as usual, with no change,” he said.

There are some signs for optimism. Selling 545 vehicles last month was a major improvement over the 303 registered in January of this year. That October sales figure also eclipsed the monthly sales of both the two-seat Smart and, surprisingly, all Mini vehicles (at 536). Plus there are refreshed 2013 SX4 and Grand Vitara models now available.

But with its overall share of the market slipping to 0.3 per cent in 2012 from 0.5 in 2011, its products still relatively dated and inefficient for their size, and its dealer numbers down by about a quarter from a decade ago, it will be a major challenge for Suzuki Canada to keep selling cars and trucks here long-term.

Toyota tops Consumer Reports reliability rankings

Toyota’s mainstream luxury Lexus and funky Scion brands took the top three spots of the most recent Consumer Reports’ annual 2012 reliability rankings, a closely watched quality metric among North American manufacturers and consumers.

Ford took the heaviest fall in the survey, dropping from being “Detroit’s poster child” for reliability only two years ago, to falling to second-last place among all 28 brands this year, with its upscale Lincoln division also dropping to just above Ford.

Part of this fall was model timing, as some of its most reliable models – the Escape, Fusion sedan and Lincoln MKZ – were redesigned for 2013, and so data wasn’t available on these models for the 2012 survey. But there were also more quality problems than normal, the survey found, on newly launched models like the Explorer, Fiesta and Focus, as well as continuing issues with the MyFord/MyLincoln Touch infotainment system in various models.

“Sixty per cent of Ford-branded models and half of Lincolns were below average in predicted reliability, and none placed above average,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.

Scion, Toyota and Lexus led all brands in reliability, followed by Mazda, Subaru, Honda, and Acura, in that order. The most reliable non-Japanese brand was e Audi, in eighth spot, with Cadillac found to be the most dependable of American brands this year.

The most reliable vehicle overall, as judged from analyzing 1.2 million consumer experiences with various new vehicles, was the subcompact Toyota Prius c. Full survey results are available on the consumer union’s website at ConsumerReports.org, or in its magazine’s December issue, though it’s worth stressing that these results don’t include results from CR’s own purchase and testing of many of these vehicles.

 

The 2013 Maserati Quattroporte.
 

All-new Maserati Quattroporte unveiled

An all-new Maserati Quattroporte full-size sedan will be shown for the first time at the Detroit auto show in mid-January, but the company unveiled the first photos and basic info on it this week.

Long considered one of the best-looking four-door vehicles on the market by some, the Maserati sedan now looks much more organically related to the luscious GranTurismo two-door, with a more pointed snout and a new rising belt-line kink.

The engine will also be a visual work of art, judging from the released photos, and there appears to be at least two versions to become available. Though no specifics in terms of size or output were confirmed, the engines will continue to be built by Ferrari, at its Maranello engine plant, and will be more eco-friendly than the current V-8, the company says.

Three new vehicle launches by Maserati are planned for the next two model years, with the 2013 Quattroporte the first in a global push to increase the firm’s sales, the Levante SUV (née Kubang) coming soon after, followed by a smaller mid-size luxury sedan that will resurrect the Ghibli name and compete with the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

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