In this overview, we examine Suzuki's history as a maker of cars and SUVs like the Kizashi, Samurai, Swift and Vitara.
Born in Japan, Suzuki is an automaker that has made a name for itself by crafting vehicles that emphasize value and affordability. Through the years, the brand's lineup has included sedans, wagons and SUVs. However, in late 2012 the company decided to stop selling new vehicles in the United States.
The company was founded by Michio Suzuki in 1909 as Suzuki Loom Works. By the 1950s, its focus had expanded beyond just loom machines to include both motorcycles and automobiles. In 1955, it rolled out the Suzulight, a compact car that proved to be a harbinger of a new era of Japanese lightweight vehicles. The automaker expanded its lineup to include a truck in 1961. Like its sibling, the tiny Suzulight Carry pickup distinguished itself with its featherweight specification. By the end of the decade, the Suzuki lineup had grown to include the Fronte passenger car, the subcompact Fronte 800 and the Carry Van full-cab van.
In 1970, Suzuki rolled out the Jimny, a four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle that resembled a playful version of the Jeep CJ-5. The automaker's roster continued to grow throughout this decade, with the addition of the Alto and the subcompact LJ80.
The 1980s saw Suzuki partnering with General Motors when GM acquired a 5 percent stake in the company. GM made this move partially in response to the growing popularity of subcompacts in the U.S. market. After the purchase, Suzuki products were rebadged and sold as GM vehicles on American shores.
In 1985, the carmaker launched an American outpost, and for the first time, Suzuki-branded vehicles became available in the U.S. The company's first model was the Samurai; available as either a convertible or a hardtop, this compact SUV met with immediate success. However, the Samurai's glory days were short-lived.
In 1988, Consumer Reports published an article in which it deemed the Samurai unsafe, saying it was more likely than most to roll over during certain maneuvers. Suzuki took the magazine to court (and eventually won) but the bad publicity from the article cast a pall on the Samurai that never quite lifted. Suzuki soldiered on, though. By the end of the decade its total aggregate car production had topped 10 million units, and its line had grown to include the compact Swift and the Sidekick, a compact SUV.
During the '90s, Suzuki expanded its reach to include territories like Egypt, Vietnam and Hungary, and launched new models like the Cappuccino convertible and the lightweight Wagon R. On U.S. soil, Suzuki rolled out the Esteem, dropped the beleaguered Samurai, introduced the two-seat, T-topped X-90 and replaced the Sidekick with the Vitara and Grand Vitara.
Suzuki and General Motors purchased ailing Daewoo in 2004, and two of that manufacturer's vehicles were rebadged and given new life as Suzukis. The Suzuki Forenza and Suzuki Verona both had former lives as Daewoo cars.
Through the first decade of the 2000s, Suzuki continued to evolve and improve its models, culminating in the Kizashi, a midsize sedan that was good enough to challenge segment front runners. But with overall sales and consumer interest stuck on a downward trend, Suzuki finally announced bankruptcy and termination of its U.S. vehicle operations in late 2012. The company plans to honor existing warranties, and some Suzuki dealers will continue to provide parts and service.