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Ono inspired Suzuki changes

Kizashi is the game-changer for Suzuki, combining Euro-type driving enjoyment with Japanese quality.

He is - or was - Hirotaka Ono - a visionary who re-invented the Japanese brand and changed everything, from boosting the quality of its cars to creating the can-do attitude among senior managers that's essential for the success of any car company. Ono had a giant advantage because he was married to the daughter of company founder, Osama Suzuki.

He was able to use his family connection to ramrod a range of changes which would have been impossible for anyone else, especially a 40-something revolutionary in a country which usually puts age and experience ahead of youth and enthusiasm. Even so, he still had to walk the walk on everything from design and driving enjoyment to bottom-line financial deals.

The award winning Suzuki Swift is an Ono car, so too is the current Grand Vitara, as well as the Kizashi. His track record also includes the less-successful second-generation XL7, thankfully only sold in the USA, but everyone makes an occasional mistake. Ono died too early at the end of 2007, but not before he inspired the cars coming through Suzuki today and forecast the global financial crisis - as well as planning the way his company would react to the challenge.

"Thanks to Mr Ono we have learned what we can do. He inspired us," says Tak Hayasaki, managing director of Suzuki Australia. Hayasaki has his own challenges in trying to lift Suzuki's share of Australia's annual car sales from its current 2.4 per cent to around six per cent, but he knows he has the strongest lineup in the company's history.

The Alto is too small for a lot of people, but a $12,990 driveway bottom line makes plenty of sense with six airbags, ABS and ESP, as well as alloy wheels. The Swift is getting very old but is still a good car, the Grand Vitara is a safe choice and the SX4 does a good enough job.

Kizashi is the game-changer for Suzuki, the same as the first Mazda6 and Accord Euro were for Mazda and Honda, combining Euro-type driving enjoyment with Japanese quality.

This week the company is adding an all-wheel drive car to the Kizashi line, the Sports, and believes it can boost its sales by 100 cars a month. That's 50 per cent of the current volume. It's a big call for a car which already goes head-to-head with Mazda6 and Euro and now faces up to the might of the Subaru Liberty, the car that convinced Australians about all-wheel drive.

As he looks forward, with a new Swift before the end of the year - not   that you would pick it as all-new from pictures - Hayasaki knows where the credit goes. "I have to thankyou to Mr Ono for what he has given us. He proved that we can do it."