DETROIT – AmericanMotor Corp. confirms it will feature mild-hybrid technology from Co. on its Kizashi midsize car.
The technology will debut within two years, Gene Brown, vice president-marketing and public relations, tells Ward’s during a run-up event to this week’s North American International Auto Show here.
Until now, despite several media reports,has not acknowledged its planned Kizashi hybrid will employ a GM system. Nor has the auto maker revealed it will be a mild hybrid, which uses an electric motor to assist a gasoline-powered engine instead of providing propulsion on its own.
However, Brown suggests a hybrid Kizashi launch is not yet a done deal. He describes the GM mild-hybrid scenario as “the current plan” and says feedback to the new-for-’10 sedan will play a role in Suzuki’s decision-making.
The prospect of offering a 6-cyl. engine also is contingent on public response, Brown says. Currently, the car features a 2.4L I-4 that generates peak torque of 170 lb.-ft (230 Nm).
Equipped with a continuously variable transmission, the engine has a 180-hp rating. Outfitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox, it makes 185 hp.
Critics have praised the Kizashi, which marks Suzuki’s first foray into the premium market. “The anecdotal feedback has been is very positive,” Brown says, adding the Kizashi is “barely out there.”
The first few U.S.-market units were delivered last month. “Our real launch thrust is not until spring,” he says.
GM is expected to introduce a second-generation belt-alternator mild-hybrid system in 2011. Originally scheduled to debut this year but delayed by the economic downturn, the new system features a 120-volt lithium-ion battery pack in place of the previous 30-volt nickel-metal-hydride unit.
The battery swap accommodates space savings of 24%, mass reduction of 40% and provides a 33% power boost.
The selection of a GM mild-hybrid system for the Kizashi would seem to fly in the face of a strategic alliance established last month betweenAG and Suzuki.
To gain access to emerging markets where Suzuki is strong, such as India,is paying a reported $2.5 billion for a 19.9% stake in the Japan-based auto maker. In return, VW has agreed to help Suzuki develop alternative powertrains, such as hybrids.
The deal, expected to become final this month, came just days after GM acquired Suzuki’s stake in CAMI, the auto makers’ Canada-based joint-venture assembly operation.
Based on a GM platform, the Suzuki XL7 midsize cross/utility vehicle was assembled at the Ingersoll, ON, plant until production was discontinued in May 2008. Poor sales scuttled the model.
GM’s acquisition of CAMI leaves Suzuki with just one domestically built vehicle in North America. The Equator compact pickup, platform-mate of theFrontier, is assembled by Nissan Motor Mfg. Corp. U.S.A in Smyrna, TN.
But Brown is not alarmed. “Before you strap yourself down with a bunch of overhead, you want to make sure you’ve got the volume,” he says.
And while Brown considers today’s Suzuki lineup to be its strongest ever in the U.S., the auto maker’s current sales levels do not warrant a domestic manufacturing footprint.
Suzuki recorded fewer than 37,000 deliveries in the U.S. last year, the least of any mainstream brand, according to Ward’s data. That total, down 54.4% from prior-year, more than doubled the overall market’s decline of 21.2%.
In addition, Suzuki’s share of the light-vehicle market fell to 0.4% in 2009 from 0.6% in 2008.
The alliance with VW leaves the door open – if only a crack – to the prospect of sharing capacity at the German auto maker’s new plant in Tennessee. Set to open in 2011, the site will be home to a successor to the VW Passat midsize car.
While U.S. capacity sharing was not on the radar when the VW-Suzuki alliance was struck, Brown says, the partnership could spawn “all kinds of things” as it evolves. However, he expects the next Suzuki to be assembled in North America will be engineered by Suzuki, and production will take place in a “low-cost” region.
In addition to setting up a new plant in Chattanooga, VW is investing $2 billion to upgrade its site in Puebla, Mexico, home to Beetle and Jetta C-car production.
As for 2010, Brown predicts improvement for Suzuki, and the market in general. But he stops short of quantifying the boost, saying only: “I don’t think the downward trend will continue.”