Now a pioneer in hybrid engines, the Suzuki brand has established itself in Europe and France thanks to a rustic but devilish little 4×4: the Samurai, called the Jimny in its home market.
First sold to us under the name Santana, the small 4X4 was characterized by its very small size, its ability to cross, but also its reliability and its covered roof, which distinguished it from its competitors Lada Niva or Fiat Panda 4X4.
Launched in 1981 in Japan, the so-called Suzuki SJ410, SJ413, Samurai or Jimny will allow the brand to swing strongly in Europe from 1987. Originally assembled in Spain, it is sold under the Santana brand until 1992, when the Japanese car is imported. The privilege ended in Europe and Suzuki officially established itself in France.
The success of the small convertible 4X4 is huge and the model represents up to 70% of Suzuki’s exports from the Islands. Little Suzuki will sell more than 1.7 million copies worldwide!
A long tradition
For From 1988, Santana Samouraï can count on the arrival of the big brother, the Vitara cabriolet. The design is more modern, the machine is better on the pavement, and above all this Vitara is also more efficient with a 1.6 l petrol engine. 95 bhp 4-cylinder, Suzuki’s first 16-valve engine.
Made in Spain, Canada and Japan, it is one of the brand’s biggest successes. It is enough to take the field until 1998 with the new generation Jimny Cabriolet. The recipe is still interesting: one million more cars sold!
A good lie idea
Over the years, how many surfboards and sails have these Suzukis carried ashore? How many second homes on the French coast hide a Suzuki convertible in their garage? The best friend of the summer picnic, the Suzuki 4X4 has become an icon. This could be what pushes Suzuki towards its first bad move.
In the early 1990s, brand engineers focused on how to build on this success. It is necessary to renew the version of small 4X4s when entertainment takes an important place and when the beginning of the SUV wave is just starting in the United States.
The profile of an interesting machine to say the least, with only two seats, and a targa roof, the X-90 does not fit into any box. So much so that few at Suzuki believe in the success of the beast.
living room star
What’s better than asking for public opinion? The Tokyo show is usually a good place for this kind of experiment. During each edition, each of the Japanese manufacturers has a tendency to present prototypes, each one more crazy than the other, rarely being those that will reach the stage of industrialization and mass production.
At Suzuki’s stand at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show, the X-90 concept car attracted a large crowd. The machine was completely unexpected from a serious and shy Japanese manufacturer. He looks like something else and his little face makes him likable.
Go to the series
Pleased with the warm welcome from the Japanese public, the manufacturer did his own little survey and asked visitors to the show. The feedback is great, everyone wants to see this X-90 on the road. On the strength of this market research, the Japanese leaders allowed themselves to be convinced and launched the industrial development of the X-90 on the basis of the Vitara.
Two years later, in 1995, it was the big day. The X-90 is arriving in Japanese dealerships, before arriving in Europe a few months later. Suzuki finally holds its new success, the beloved car par quality.
At the dealership, customers willing to sign the order form are rare. There is a difference between looking for a fun car and wanting to get it on the road, and going into debt for five years to buy it.
Who needs a two-seater car, with a ridiculous trunk, a close-ratio gearbox, a design that is too divisive on the outside and too smart on the inside, which does not offer any driving pleasure? A few thousand buyers worldwide, at least.
A year after the start of production, Suzuki freezes costs and stops production. The car will be listed until 1999 to expire. It will be one of the brand’s rare failures.
Today, the manufacturer has learned a lesson.
The new Jimny has a beautiful face, but above all, it does not lose from its main function which is 4X4. The biggest card in the world, which creates other problems: the Suzuki factory can not follow.