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20th Anniversary Achievement For Suzuki NZ Ltd

20th Anniversary Achievement For Suzuki NZ Ltd

Suzuki, which produces some of the world’s best-known motorcycles and compact cars, achieves a significant New Zealand milestone this year.

The New Zealand Suzuki importer and distributor, Suzuki New Zealand Ltd, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2004 as it builds on the successes of recent years.

“With its unusual spread of versatile models, the Suzuki marque has made considerable inroads into the New Zealand market in the past two decades,” said Bill Grice, Chief Executive Officer of Suzuki New Zealand.

Suzuki has also been New Zealand’s top-selling motorcycle brand for the past six years and has been particularly strong in the sales of new road-going motorcycles.

The Wanganui-based wholesale motor franchise was formed in February 1984 when the Japanese parent company, Suzuki Motor Corporation, acquired the major assets of the original importer.

Suzuki has been active in New Zealand for 40 years, with the marketing of Suzuki motorcycles beginning in 1962, under the wings of Percy Coleman & Co Limited and then later as South Pacific Suzuki Limited.

Successful motorcycle racers Rod and Bob Coleman, who formed South Pacific Distributors, remained as executive advisors during the early period of the new company. The Coleman family’s association with Suzuki began as early as 1959 when the make was relatively unknown in New Zealand.

The establishment of Suzuki New Zealand in 1984 was significant, not only for the local motor trade but the local business community. The takeover marked the first 100 percent Japanese-owned company to be established in New Zealand.

In later years most other Japanese motor vehicle brands would become wholly owned by their parent companies.

After the introduction of Suzuki motorcycles in the sixties South Pacific gradually moved into distribution of outboard motors in 1970 and four-wheeled vehicles in 1973.

Three years later South Pacific Vehicle Assemblers Ltd was formed and a vehicle assembly plant was built in Wanganui. It began producing the little Jimny LJ50 four-wheel-drive vehicle at the rate of eight units a day.

The 3.2-metre long LJ50, a highly successful forerunner to the modern four-wheel-drive Suzukis of today, was powered by a diminutive two-stroke, water-cooled three-cylinder, 539cc engine.

A tough workhorse, this little Suzuki rapidly became a hit with farmers and was a significant factor in Suzuki’s strong commercial vehicle sales in the 1980s.

Suzuki Motor Corporation invested $10 million in the new distributorship in 1984, retaining the head office in Wanganui and maintaining the staff level at 118. With the shedding of the assembly plant four years later and greater on-going efficiencies, staffing has reduced to 36 by 2004.

Katsuyoshi (Ken) Naito was the first Managing Director of Suzuki New Zealand, and fellow Japanese director Kenji Shimizu also served the company as well as being an executive director of Suzuki’s overseas division.

The Wanganui plant was producing about 2,000 vehicles a year and had the potential to increase capacity by 25 percent.

In the early 1980s Suzuki had 22 motor vehicle assembly plants outside Japan, and only the Venezuela factory was smaller than Wanganui.

Suzuki four-wheel passenger cars and commercial models continued to be assembled in Wanganui until 1988 when New Zealand legislation and market circumstances led to an end in local production. Since then, all Suzuki automobiles have been imported fully built-up.

In 1984 Suzuki had 57 motor vehicle dealers in New Zealand, 84 motorcycle retail outlets and 30 agents for its outboard motors. This compares with 19 automobile dealers and 49 motorcycle dealers today.

There has been a decline in smaller rural dealers, selling and servicing farm motorcycles and light commercial vehicles, in recent years.

New Zealand played a role in Suzuki’s international success and was a key player in the development of the farm ATV and farm motorcycle. Suzuki invented the Quad motorcycle and refined many of the features following experience in unique New Zealand conditions.

Suzuki has been capturing 35 percent of the New Zealand road motorbike market, almost three times as much as its nearest rival.

Tom Peck, General Manager of Marketing for Suzuki New Zealand, said increasing congestion on roads had also seen a growth in commuter bike sales in recent years.

During the past two decades Suzuki’s passenger car line-up has increased and matured.

Arrival of the Vitara four-wheel-drive model in 1988 sparked a whole new breed of leisure and off-road vehicles with its successor, the Grand Vitara, also proving popular with New Zealand buyers. In recent years half of the Suzuki cars offered in New Zealand have been in the popular four-wheel-drive recreational vehicle lifestyle configuration.

During the nineties, Suzuki increased its share of the local new car market in no fewer than eight successive years.

“Rising acceptance of Suzuki products in New Zealand which are renowned for their excellent reliability has been a key factor in the progress made by the company since the eighties,” said Bill Grice.

“Suzuki has become regarded as a world leader in the design and manufacture of economical, environmentally friendly automobiles and more local consumers now realise this,” he said.

Guests at a special function to celebrate the 20th anniversary in Wanganui on February 28 will include Mr S. Nakano, Executive Vice President of Suzuki Motor Corporation and Mr Rich Kikukawa, from the Corporation’s Automobile Marketing Division.

Also attending the function will be Mr Koichi Takizawa, the Melbourne-based Managing Director of Suzuki New Zealand and Mr Chas Poynter, the Mayor of Wanganui.

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