Electrified Suzuki: the small car expert with BIG plans

Suzuki recently announced their growth plan to 2030 and there are some big changes to come, especially in Japan and Europe

Kwan Wongwetsawat, Senior Analyst, Asia Powertrain Forecasts

17 February 2023

On January 26, 2023, Suzuki Global announced its growth strategy out to 2030. The highlight was the electrified targets that focused on three core markets: Japan, Europe, and India. According to the plan, Suzuki in Japan and Europe will no longer sell any ICE cars while 60% of Indian sales will remain as ICE up to 2030.

Suzuki xEV technology today looks to be far behind most other OEMs. Suzuki cars normally improve fuel efficiency via engine down-sizing technology and weight reduction. The “One gram strategy” became famous in previous decades when Suzuki asked their suppliers to reduce each part’s weight by at least one gram, resulting in many kilograms being cut in total. But this efficiency enhancement through ICE optimisation is not sustainable in the long term.

Over the last decade, Suzuki has introduced its Integrated Starter-motor Generator (ISG) with 12-volt lithium-ion battery storage, called “Smart Hybrid Technology” to enhance fuel economy. This technology has been rolled out to Japan, India, and the ASEAN markets. At the same time, Suzuki vehicles sold in Europe are now generally equipped with 48-volt mild hybrid technology to tackle tougher emission regulations. In addition, Suzuki has also presented in-house FHEV technology in which the traction motor is integrated into an automated transmission unit and this system is now available on some models in Japan and Europe.

Besides the in-house technology, Suzuki also allied with Toyota in 2019. The alliance agreement is expected to be fulfilled on the Suzuki side by supporting small models for Toyota in emerging markets, particularly in India and African regions. In return, Toyota will share electrified powertrains with Suzuki cars. Today, we can see some Suzuki B-segment models rebadged as Toyota cars in some emerging markets, while Suzuki has rebadged Toyota’s C-segment HEV models for Europe. Moreover, Suzuki India has also launched its new Grand Vitara with Toyota’s FHEV powertrains variants installed.

What can we expect from Suzuki battery-electric models in the future?

In January 2023 Suzuki showcased the eVX concept, an SUV EV which will be launched in 2025. This was followed by Suzuki’s announcement of the joint development, with Canadian company Inmotive, of a 2-speed BEV transmission. Suzuki will be likely to use the 2-speed transmission with its small BEVs though other OEMs usually use a single-speed reduction gear on their BEV models. Theoretically, matching a transmission with an e-motor will either increase the driving capability or will allow the downsizing of the e-motor. Given that Suzuki is well known as a small car expert, it would not be surprising to see Suzuki downsize the e-motor or even downsize the battery to improve range capability.

As well as announcing the global growth strategy through to 2030, with several BEVs in the roadmap, Suzuki noted that it will split its electrified strategy into two approaches. The first is to benefit from the alliance agreement by using Toyota HEV and BEV technologies that could be used in the B-segment and above. Secondly, to roll out the in-house developed HEV technology and the BEV with a 2-speed transmission that would be used in models below the B-segment.

In the European Union and affiliated countries, a strenuous reduction in CO2 emissions is required by 2030 and a 100% cut by 2035. This will force Suzuki to roll out BEV models as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the brand will not be able to survive in Europe. In Japan, most Suzuki sales are in the Kei-car segment. Thus, the implementation of the 2-speed transmission into the Kei BEV segment would make sense for Suzuki. However, the HEV models seem likely to continue leading the Japanese market even by 2030. In India, the brand’s largest country by market share, will allow ICE to remain the leading powertrain type.  Although the Indian government has started to lower CO2 limits, Suzuki still believes that IC engines using ethanol or CNG fuel would be more cost-effective than BEVs. This view differs from other OEMs in India that are betting on BEV in the expectation that battery costs will trend downward. Thus, there is likely to be indirect enforcement for Suzuki India to roll out six BEV models by 2030 to avoid losing market share in the future.

We foresee that Suzuki will phase out ICE in developed countries by early next decade, but ICE will survive in emerging markets through the next decade.