The recession had a serious effect on the American automobile market. We all know what happened to the Big Three. However, there are a few small Japanese companies that are definitely worth mentioning because they seem to hang on either by a thread, or by a sizable rope, in the US domestic market. Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki, and Mitsubishi are the four non-major Japanese players in the US market. Well, they were. One of these four announced late on November 5, 2012 that they were pulling their automotive arm from the US market. So, allow me to say…and then there were three. But soon, I think there will be two.
Suzuki has had a curious existence in the US market over the years. Their motorcycles are stuff of legend and in terms of small engines and ATVs, they’re a major player. But, their cars are not really big in the USA. Years ago, the lowly, dinky, and downright castrated Suzuki Swift (believe me, it wasn’t) formed the basis for the Geo Metro (slower than Dan Quayle trying to spell a word), while the Suzuki Vitara was the basis for the Geo Tracker, another example of why small cute ‘utes in the 1990s were not for people with brains. So, Suzuki was Geo–that’s not high praise. The cars themselves weren’t so great, but Suzuki was marketing them and did have a dealer network–even in my little hometown of Randolph, NJ, we had one attached to the Ford dealership, and I’d always take a look at the new Suzukis while my dad got his Explorers serviced.
Of course, then there’s the real problem they’ve had. Suzuki wasn’t a big car seller in America at any given time, and has had a fair enough share of bad press–only the problem was, they never quite recovered from the one big piece of bad press they had, which was that the Samurai was prone to rolling over like a puppy in a sharp corner without a lot of effort, ruining any reputation it had for safety. Even though that was back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, Suzuki did not really recover. But, they had other product issues. If anyone cares to remember the Suzuki Verona and Forenza, both cheap Daewoo knockoffs, those people should have those two automotive bruises erased from their memories for their own health. Anyone who remembers the X-90, which proved to the human race that stupidity can indeed be put on four wheels, has far too good a memory and should fill it with better automotive examples from those years.
However, it has become apparent that since the recession hit in 2008, Suzuki hasn’t shown a lot of real enthusiasm other than the Kizashi. But, they messed up by not advertising it at all despite the good press it got, not to mention that their dealer network was reduced to rubble. Worse, I’m quite sure that they spent so much money developing it (not a bad thing) that there was no spare change jangling around in anyone’s pockets for a good ad campaign, and with their lack of dealers, not enough people knew that Suzuki was trying as hard as it was. Really, ladies and gentlemen–it was only a matter of time. But, Suzuki is only the first one to stop selling cars.
Mitsubishi will be next to go, and it’s for different reasons. Plagued by constantly lower sales than needed, not to mention consistently underwhelming products (other than the current Lancer despite its age), Mitsubishi has somehow stood the test of time in the United States thanks to a few good cars and the occasional slice of innovation. Unfortunately, after visiting the New York Auto Show twice over its run (once with Nick and once with my father), I have to admit that Mitsubishi has lost its way in this country. Yes, the Lancer Evolution was out on the floor and was, as usual, getting plenty of attention, but its newer and higher-volume models were notably devoid of anyone standing over them or checking them out. Even their most advanced piece of efficient technology, the iMIEV, had two examples parked on the floor and no one within 10 feet of them. What was entirely worse, though, was their pathetic attempt at a supermini. The USA is starting to embrace smaller cars, and one would think that with Mitsubishi’s experience in third world markets, they would on paper be perfectly able to compete on cheaper cars. The truth is, though, after seeing the little Mitsubishi Mirage on their stand in the Javits basement, I think they are incapable of building a proper small car. It’s a damn shame–for a company known to have produced cars like the Galant VR-4, the Starion, and all of the versions of the Lancer Evolution (as well as the Pajero SWB, which was the basis of the Dakar-bound Pajero Evolution), they can’t wrap their head around putting a new face on their product for the United States market.
I think it’s sad, really. Subaru has been gradually expanding in its own niche in the American market, while Mazda, fresh on its own after sharing resources with Ford for so many years, has introduced quite a few new cars and trucks (the new 6, the 2, and the CX-5 all immediately spring to mind) which are either innovative, appealing, or interesting to investigate (often a combination of those). Mitsubishi’s core problem now is that they are no longer capable of keeping up in an increasingly demanding market, which is one of the largest reasons why Suzuki fell behind after the recession. I will be surprised if Mitsubishi makes it to the end of 2014 as a brand in the United States. Considering their history, it would be a shame to see them go the way of Isuzu and Suzuki in this country, but with a lack of interesting new product, boring current offerings, and only one or two cars that consistently grab attention (and do not make up for sales), I am quite skeptical that Mitsubishi can afford to stay here.
-Albert S. Davis