Suzuki Motor Corp. is irritated that some of its cars assembled by GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. in South Korea are getting poor quality scores from U.S. consumers.
The discord between General Motors and Suzuki emerged after J.D. Power and Associates released its latest Initial Quality Study in May. In the study, Suzuki vehicles ranked last among the 36 nameplates rated.
In June, top brass from Suzuki and GM, which controls GM Daewoo, met in the United States. Suzuki's chairman, Osamu Suzuki, complained strongly to GM CEO Rick Wagoner about the quality problems at GM Daewoo, says Hirotaka Ono, the Suzuki board member in charge of U.S. and European sales.
Suzuki added cars to its lineup manufactured by GM Daewoo after GM, Suzuki and China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. created GM Daewoo from assets of bankrupt Daewoo Motor Co. in 2002.
The J.D. Power study measures problems reported by auto buyers after the first 90 days of ownership. Suzuki had 151 problems per 100 vehicles in this year's study, up from 149 last year. The industry average was 118.
"One reason for this, to be honest, is because we added (GM Daewoo) cars," Ono says.
The two sides agreed on the need to improve quality at the Korean unit, Ono says.
Among other steps, he says, they agreed to require GM Daewoo to review its engineering and suppliers. "Parts from suppliers are not always controlled well," Ono says.
Suzuki also has quality problems with some of its Suzuki-made cars. It has formed a team at its headquarters in Japan to fix them. It's called the J.D. Power Improvement Team.
GM Daewoo officials won't say what they're doing to remedy the problems with the cars GM Daewoo is building.
"We're not in a position to answer on behalf of Suzuki," says Rene Kreis, director of product communications at GM Daewoo's headquarters in Incheon, Korea. "Suzuki is one of our customers. We cannot answer on behalf of a customer."
One of the cars that contributed to the poor quality rating, says Ono, was the Suzuki Forenza, which is made by GM Daewoo at its Gunsan plant.
Michael Greywitt, director of media relations at J.D. Power, confirmed that problems with Forenzas affected the Suzuki score. In the IQS rating, "They are below average," he said.
The Forenza is Suzuki's most popular U.S. vehicle. The company sold 24,796 Forenzas in the United States last year, one-third of Suzuki's total.
But the quality question goes beyond cars named Forenza. The car is sold under several other names in numerous other markets that weren't included in the J.D. Power study.
In all, GM Daewoo sold more than 154,000 of the cars last year.
The Forenza is a version of the GM Daewoo Lacetti. GM also sells the car in Canada as the Chevrolet Optra. It sold 16,853 Optras in Canada last year.
GM sells other versions of the car in Europe as the Chevrolet Lacetti and the Chevrolet Nubira. And it sold 19,797 of the cars in Korea as Daewoo Lacettis.
All these cars, with all these names and badges, came from the same assembly line in the Gunsan plant.
GM Daewoo makes the mid-sized Suzuki Verona in a different plant, at Bupyong, Korea.
Suzuki sold 12,874 Veronas in the United States last year, but in the J.D. Power quality survey there wasn't a large enough sample to include the Verona in the results, Greywitt said.
Another car made at Bupyong was rated in the study, however. That was the Chevrolet Aveo, which is GM Daewoo's best-selling car in North America.
The Aveo sold 70,354 units in the United States and Canada last year. It's also sold in Europe as the Kalos in most markets, and in Korea as the Kalos.
In the quality study, the Aveo "was about segment-average," Greywitt said.
No Aveos have a Suzuki badge, so the Aveo wasn't part of the Suzuki rating.