Men behind motors: SUZUKI

Time 8:13 pm, October 26, 2008

SUZUKI’S Rob Lake is Mr. Qashqai. The product manager, who’s been in his role for six months, is better known as the man who launched the smash-hit Nissan in the UK. He has the Note on his portfolio too.

And the move to Suzuki, six months ago, was borne through one thing: untapped potential.

‘Suzuki is the world’s 12th largest manufacturer – but the largest small car manufacturer. In the current climate, this can only bode well.’ Problem is, up to now, the maker’s almost been reluctant to spread the message. Not any more.

Lake’s part of a new team that includes a dealer marketing manager, Shakeel Hussain, brought in from Mercedes, a CRM manager, Rebecca Morrison, from Hyundai, and a PR man from Toyota. And they’re all going to be busy. ‘We need to talk a lot more than in the past. Up to now, Suzuki has been far too quiet.’

‘That all those guys have come across shows the confidence they have in the brand. Me? I had the easiest job in the industry with the Qashqai. Here, my role is to draw upon that success.’

Lake is charged with ensuring UK Suzukis are the right spec, the right price. Value for money is all. But it doesn’t mean decontenting cars. Fleets drive technological features, says Lake, but even retail customers are starting to demand gadgets such as Bluetooth. Striking the right balance is key.

The retail element, incidentally, is important: Suzuki sells few cars to fleets. While it would like to do more, it will remain at a low level. ‘Retail customers are more profitable for our dealers,’ says Lake, who reckons this could be one key to helping them through the recession.

Vital feedback comes from dealers: Lake plans to visit, as soon as possible, dealers within every region in the UK. ‘Issues, likes and dislikes can be regional. We can’t tailor cars, but we can get the possible spec to suit all.’

Customer feedback is also crucial, with Lake attending as many shows as he can. ‘I met customers at the London Motor Show, both current and former, to find out what they want from us.’

‘I’m looking five to six years ahead.’ And hoping to tap into a near-5bh Euro expansion plan Suzuki’s set out for the next three years.

This future will see a growing focus on small cars. ‘We already sell three sub-120g/km CO2 cars, and next March, we’ll have the 103g/km CO2 Alto.’ This is a vital model for the brand. ‘Just as people associate us with Grand Vitara, they also know us for Alto.’

Nissan will sell a rebadged version, called Pixo, but Suzuki (which builds both versions, in India) will beat it to market by three months. ‘This is a good opportunity for us to gain traction.’

It will also help them cope in a market Lake predicts will worsen. ‘The media is full of doom and gloom. People are therefore being reserved.’

‘For eight years, we’ve had record-breaking sales – but you can’t break records forever. To some extent, the current situation is a realignment to where it was.

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‘Looking forward, it’s less about how fast the crash happens, but how fast it recovers. I’m slightly less concerned than some, due to Suzuki’s strengths – and I’m sure that in a year or two, the market will have recovered.’

With, he hopes, a far stronger set of Suzuki dealers at the other end. The potential-tapping starts here…


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