One of the most low-key automotive companies, Suzuki, started out as a family-owned loom-making business before building up a solid reputation as a maker of stylishly designed compact cars, compact SUVs and 4x4s and MPVs.
Thus, one can say carmaking has been the very fabric of Suzuki’s existence, quietly weaving in its own legacy into the global automotive industry by being faithful to its tried-and-tested pattern—designing and engineering small cars and, as auto historian Tony Lewin describes, making itself invaluable to other automakers by providing them with a handy supply of off-the-shelf models to fill gaps in their lineups.
In the Philippines, Suzuki has been popular as a Japanese car brand that creates practical, elegant, yet affordable vehicles, reinforcing this reputation when the brand became a consistent top placer in the Department of Energy fuel economy/efficiency runs. It has also been a dominant motorcycle brand, with Suzuki Motorcycle successfully dominating the underbone market with the Smash, touted as the number one selling underbone in the leisure category, and the Raider R150, acknowledged as the “Underbone King” for being the highest selling model in the Underbone Sport category. Both models have sold more than double their competitors over the years.
Now among the top 5 in the Philippine car market, Suzuki’s boost in sales was due mainly to the company’s aggressive efforts throughout 2019, enabling the Ertiga, Vitara and Celerio to become some of the bestselling vehicles of the year.
Just as the global CoViD-19 pandemic took hold of the country, Suzuki Philippines Inc (SPH) announced that its parent Suzuki Motor Corp, Japan’s fourth largest automaker, would be observing its 100th anniversary this year. Suzuki, thus, joins the elite group of carmakers—which includes Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Peugeot, Fiat, and Land Rover—that have broken the century mark.
SPH, for its part, is now on its 35th year, and is the only integrated automotive company in Asia that carries both the automobile and motorcycle, as well as its outboard motor products.
Noting the inauspicious timing of its centennial, Suzuki, nevertheless, still vows to do its part as a responsible corporate citizen: “To continue to strive and take part in the community as we are currently experiencing a major speed bump worldwide. As Team Suzuki, our participation goes beyond not just by producing reliable products but being able to assist in continuing the way of life of our people. Stay calm. Stay safe. Stay home.”
Before the zooming, there was the weaving
Suzuki started as a loom weaving company called Suzuki Loom Works in 1902 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan. Founded by accomplished innovator and inventor Michio Suzuki, the company was built to help the Enshu District weaving industry and the other businesses in the city. Its initial business entailed providing loom weaving equipment for Japan’s massive pre-war silk industry.
Michio Suzuki’s focus on listening to customers’ needs and the value of hard work—these “monozukuri” or manufacturing principles hinged on craftsmanship—enabled Suzuki to be successful in this initial field. The founder was claimed to have said, “If the customer needs something, we must do whatever we can to respond. Hard work guarantees success.”
In March 1920, the company was reorganized and incorporated with Suzuki as president of Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company, the precursor of the modern-day Suzuki. Ultimately, Suzuki’s success in the looms business and its principles led the company to diversify into another industry that was crucial to the advancement of Japan: Motor vehicles.
Automotive history would not be complete without mentioning the development of Suzuki motorcycles and how it started with a spark of inspiration. Suzuki managing director Shunzo Suzuki was riding his bicycle against a headwind on the coastal pine forest of the Enshu Region when the thought of a motorized bicycle that anyone could easily handle and ride crossed his mind. In 1954, a motorcycle with a 90cc engine—the Suzuki Colleda—made its debut. The Colleda embodied what the company valued most in producing motorcycles: Ease of use, strength, and durability.
This principle of “monozukuri” embraced by Michio Suzuki and his company fueled his long-cherished development of automobiles, but was unfortunately pushed to the backseat during World War 2. Suzuki’s automobile development program was revived afterwards, and work began in earnest. “We have got to do what we have got to do. The value of the efforts will be that much greater if we push on in spite of limited money and resources,” Suzuki said.
Finally, in 1955, Japan saw Suzuki’s first 4-wheeled vehicle roll out of the assembly, the Suzulight.
Suzuki’s reputation as an ingenious manufacturer of small, reliable combustion engines eventually led the company to supply another transportation platform, the outboard motor engine for marine transport in 1965 when the “ultimate 4-stroke outboard” was launched. Its global reputation soared even further as the engine became known for its acceleration, fuel efficiency, and value.
The newest addition to SPH is the outboard motor or marine business. With six dealerships, it achieved a 205-percent sales growth in 2019.