TOKYO -- Three years ago, General Motors was eager to crack the Japanese compact car market with the Chevrolet Cruze, a car developed jointly by GM and partner Suzuki Motor Corp.
But GM has largely walked away from the effort, leaving the car's uncertain fate in Suzuki's hands.
"That (Cruze) business is directly controlled by Suzuki," says Jay Hunt, president of General Motors Japan. "A decision about a next-generation Cruze is really Suzuki's decision."
The Cruze's future was questioned this month when Suzuki launched a redesigned Swift in Japan. The Cruze, which is sold mostly in Suzuki showrooms, is based on a previous version of the Swift.
At a press event for the Swift launch on Nov. 1, two Suzuki executives, who declined to be named, said the company has no plans to remodel the Cruze. "We have similar products," said one of them.
But at the same event Suzuki President Hiroshi Tsuda offered some hope for the Cruze: "I want to remodel the Cruze." Asked when, he answered, "I don't know."
Launched in 2001, the Cruze is falling short of its annual sales target of 20,000, in part because GM failed to establish a Chevrolet sales channel in Japan. In 2000, GM launched the GM AutoWorld sales network in Japan to sell Chevrolets, including the TrailBlazer, Astro, Corvette and Cruze. But the GM channel, which had 47 outlets, collapsed in 2003 after Isuzu Motors Ltd. pulled out.
The Cruze had sales of 7,995 in 2003, down 9.8 percent from 2002. This year the car has performed better. For the first 10 months, Cruze sales more than doubled to 13,349, from 6,224 in the year-ago period.
The Cruze's base model sells for ¥990,000, or about $9,500.
"We definitely care about the Cruze because it carries our brand," says GM's Hunt.
But what if Suzuki says it wants to drop the Cruze? Says Hunt: "We would have to support them on that decision."
You may e-mail Yuzo Yamaguchi at