LOS ANGELES -- As American Suzuki seeks a record year, it is discontinuing the slow-selling Verona sedan and preparing to add products it has never had: a pickup and a hybrid.
President Koichi Suzuki confirmed for Automotive News that the company will bring the Swift hatchback back to the United States in 2010 to compete against such small cars as the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. Sales of the Swift stopped in the United States in July 2002.
He also said that Nissan will provide Suzuki with a small pickup in the United States in 2008. This fall, Suzuki will add a crossover, and in 2010 it will offer a hybrid car.
He declined to give details of the hybrid car or the pickup. Suzuki dealers believe the hybrid will be a sedan version of the Swift and that the pickup will be a version of the Nissan Frontier. Fuel-saving hybrids use gasoline engines and one or more electric motors to power the wheels.
One casualty of the product makeover is the mid-sized Verona. It will be discontinued at the end of the 2006 model year. Dealer orders have stopped.
The Verona, built by Korean automaker GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co., suffered quality problems and never lived up to its sales expectations of 25,000 units annually.
"It wasn't selling, so we decided not to order any more," says American Suzuki spokesman Mike Anson.
The Verona came to market in September 2003. The highest sales year was 2004, when Suzuki dealers sold 12,874 units.
Anson says the company may take a look at bringing the vehicle back to the United States if it gets an improved powerplant. The 2006 Verona is equipped with a 155-hp, 2.5-liter inline-six engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
Anson says U.S. buyers want a larger V-6 and at least a five-speed automatic transmission.
Suzuki dealer Jerry Goldstein, of Altoona, Pa., says: "I'm very happy we're getting these three new vehicles. Fuel mileage is the name of the game, and I think it will be that way long term. But I think they pulled the plug too quickly on the Verona. It accounted for 15 percent of my sales."
The Swift is sold in Japan, Europe, India and China. The base car is equipped with a 1.3-liter inline-four making 101 hp. The United States will get the next-generation Swift.
Suzuki's goal this year is to sell 100,000 vehicles in the United States for the first time. Its best year was in 1987 when it sold 83,334. Through May, the company sold 47,443 units here, an increase of 37.3 percent over the same period last year.
The automaker plans to develop bigger and better looking vehicles with more engine power and other amenities. It also doubled its ad budget to more than $100 million in 2004 from 2003.
Suzuki increased its car line from one to three in 2003, when it added the Forenza compact and Verona. In 2004, dealers got the Reno five-door hatchback, a trimline of the Forenza.
The company is overhauling its SUV lineup. The Grand Vitara was redesigned in 2005, and the new SX4 crossover and redesigned XL-7 mid-sized SUV will arrive this fall.
You may e-mail Kathy Jackson at [email protected]