Although Suzuki may have kept the competition at bay with their portfolio of budget-range cars, sedans have remained their Achilles heel. Now, in an ambitious attempt to change this small car manufacturer image, Suzuki has launched the Kizashi, an entry-level luxury sedan, in Lahore.
Azam Mirza, GM Marketing, Pak Suzuki Motor Company, confirms that the overall perception is that Suzuki is basically a 800cc budget-range car producer and that the principal reason behind the launch of a luxury sedan like the Kizashi was to change this perception and show people that Suzuki does produce middle-of-the-road (1000-1200cc) and luxury cars.
Launched as a CBU (Completely Built-up Unit) with a price tag of five million rupees, the premium version comes with a 2.4 litre dual overhead cam (DOHC) engine with CVT transmission, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), SRS airbags and luxury features such as a push-button start, rear air-conditioning, 10-way power seat, sensor-based headlights and wipers, and full leather upholstery. Although these features are pretty much standard in luxury cars, given that people do not expect luxury features from a Suzuki, the Kizashi will add to the brand’s image in Pakistan.
First launched in Japan in 2009, in other countries in 2010 and in India in 2011(under the Maruti Suzuki flag), the car had the shortest life span for a Suzuki in India as well as globally. In 2013, Suzuki announced the gradual discontinuation of the Kizashi globally and production ceased in December 2014. Maruti Suzuki, in an effort to liquidate its inventory, had to offer a INR 500,000 discount on its INR 1.8 million price tag.
This led to the perception that Suzuki was trying to dump its stock in Pakistan, a perception which Azam counters:
“The dynamics in the global market, and in India in particular, are very different. Our middle class is not growing and the majority of the money lies with the upper income bracket, which is why the luxury car segment is growing swiftly. In India, on the other hand, the middle class is growing rapidly and there is a higher demand for mid-range cars compared to luxury cars. And even within the luxury segment, Indians are spoiled for choice; for example brands such as Mercedes are manufactured in India and backed by their dealership network. In Pakistan we have to import these brands and then face issues like parts availability and after-sales service.”
"We don’t plan to make major profits from Kizashi in Pakistan. The key purpose behind the launch was to change our brand’s image and any sales profit will only be a by product of our main goal, which is to tell people that we produce luxury cars as well.”
Azam adds that the Kizashi has won over 25 awards in different categories globally and that in Pakistan Suzuki’s extensive dealership network, the after-sales service and the high resale value of Suzuki cars will give the car a major edge over its competitors, especially the German brands.
In terms of why Lahore was chosen as the launching pad, Danish Dalia, Marketing Manager, Pak Suzuki, says it was a strategic decision. In this regard, he cites the security situation in Karachi, which makes it difficult to plan a launch, as well as the fact that a major portion of their market is Lahore based – “People in Lahore are more open to new stuff compared to people in Karachi.”
However, Dalia adds that the Kizashi is on display in all the major cities and a few units are available for on-the-spot purchase; otherwise customers can contact a regional office and the car will be delivered to the city where the customer lives.
Despite being a high-end car, the Kizashi was launched with a fairly low key print and outdoor campaign, with digital as the main selling platform. According to Yar Muhammad Bashir, Account Director, Orientm McCann, “Market research indicated that digital would be the strongest platform to market the Kizashi, as it is targeted at high-end customers such as businessmen and top executives who are into digital media.”
Azam confirms the effectiveness of the use of digital – “Our target sales were about 15 to 20 units a month and we have received orders for 35 plus cars already.”
Car dealers, however, are reserving their judgment. Suneel Sarfraz Munj of Carigar believes that “for anyone investing five million rupees, high-end features alone are not enough. They want their car to be a status symbol.”
In Munj’s opinion, although the Kizashi has the engine capacity and pretty much all the features of a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry – and that too at half the price – Suzuki’s low-end budget image may well prove to be a barrier. Further complicating the task is the fact that an imported, brand-new, entry-level Mercedes or BMW is available at a price tag of 6.5 million rupees, and although both brands have issues such as high maintenance costs, low resale value and poor after-sales service support, they do have snob appeal.
On the other hand, Abbas Mandviwalla of Mandviwalla Motors says that in relation to competitors such as Audi, entry level Mercedes and BMW, the Kizashi’s maintenance cost will be about five times lower and there will also be better availability of parts and widely accessible after-sales service. In addition, the Kizashi’s engine is bigger compared to its competitor German versions. The advantages, Mandviwalla says, also apply in relation to the Accord and Camry.
Summing it all up, Dalia says that the strategic objective driving the launch of the Kizashi is not sales – “We don’t plan to make major profits from Kizashi in Pakistan. The key purpose behind the launch was to change our brand’s image and any sales profit will only be a by-product of our main goal, which is to tell people that we produce luxury cars as well. This launch is all about changing the perception.”