Things have been really taking off for TMO in recent weeks and our inbox has been blowing up with messages from motorcycle manufacturers all over the word who are desperate to receive the kind of advice we’ve been offering in our “Let’s Tell xx What to Do” series. Yes, I’m lying, but let’s not let truth stand in the way, shall we?
PREVIOUS RECIPIENTS OF OUR FANTASTIC ADVICE:
– Indian Motorcycle
This time ’round, I figured I’d focus my genius on another of Japan’s Big Four, one that very clearly needs somebody’s help: Suzuki.
The company has been around in some form or another for almost 110 years, though it didn’t really start making motorcycles until the mid 1950s. It’s pretty impressive, then, that the company was able to move to the top of the racing game in less than 30 years. The GSX-R series, launched in 1984, helped the company dominate podiums through the 80s, 90s and 2000s.
More recently, the 2017 GSX-R1000R has won the accolades of many race-headed moto-journalists, but it doesn’t seem to have truly impressed riders as previous versions did. And there remains a real question as to whether sportbikes are relevant to the current motorcycle market. Meanwhile, in its street and off-road offerings, the company seems to have completely run out of ideas, more or less recycling the same concepts of two decades ago. As Jon Urry of Bike put it recently when reviewing the uninspired modern-retro-wannabe SV650X:
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when it comes to Suzuki. This once great manufacturer, the same who brought us revolutionary machines such as the GSX-R1000 K1, Katana, RGV250, and Hayabusa, appears to have given up on motorcycles.”
At EICMA last year Suzuki was effectively a no-show, serving up exactly no new bikes. And even in 2016, when the company pulled the covers off a host of new models, the bikes weren’t really “new.” They were instead updated versions of motorcycles that had been around for more than a decade.
The aforementioned SV650X is one of the most half-assed attempts to jump on a trend train I’ve ever seen, even managing to surpass the Yamaha Bolt C-Spec (but still better than the Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber, if not simply because the SV650X is still fundamentally a good bike). I personally think Suzuki struggles to comprehend the ethos of the modern classics movement because all of its bikes are so outdated. Suzuki is the dude who wears a mullet and mustache without irony.
All of which leads to my first piece of advice: try making a new bike, rather than incessantly trading on your past glories.
At present Suzuki’s line-up is like the Facebook feed of a woman going through a midlife crisis: “Hey guys! Weren’t the 90s just the best ever?! Oh my goodness, I was so sexy back then. Remember back in high school when you thought I was sexy? Remember when you totally wanted me to be yours? Right? Remember? You remember, don’t you? Please say you remember…”
The only bike in the current line-up that’s actually been introduced in the last decade – rather than updated/refreshed – is the GSX-S1000/F, which was introduced in 2015. But, of course, even there the motorcycle is built around the GSX-R1000 K5 platform, introduced in 2005. I know it’s a hell of a lot more easily said than done, but I feel Suzuki desperately needs to deliver an entirely new platform – if not simply to prove it can. This turbo-powered Recursion concept that’s been floating around since 2013 might be a good way to show you’ve still got it; where’s that?
I’ll admit, though, that I’m not terribly interested in that proposed 588cc parallel twin with intercooler turbo – in part because the design of the concept bike doesn’t thrill me. It looks like a Katana from the 1980s (Uhm, there’s a caveat to this criticism – see below). Which leads to my second piece of advice: hire some new designers.
I have long complained that Suzukis lack any real personality. The company makes affordable, utterly reliable motorcycles – I had very few quibbles with my 2015 V-Strom 1000 – but its products fail to stir the soul. Think of how fanboyish I am over my Indian Motorcycle-branded boots and ask yourself whether you can imagine anyone being as excited to wear Suzuki-branded gear, to represent that brand and effectively walk around saying: “Yeah, I’m one of those guys.”
READ MORE: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Suzuki?
Suzuki’s products are uninspiring. I remember my father-in-law once threatening to set fire to my V-Strom 1000 because “at least then, for once, it will be exciting.” Bedecked in affordable plastic and lacking any real engaging lines most Suzuki models look like the motorcycle equivalent of store-brand breakfast cereal – the Hoop Fruities to Honda’s Fruit Loops. I’d like to see the company bringing in people from outside its circle, possibly from outside Japan, to reassess what a Suzuki is and what it should look like.
The exception to Suzuki’s visual dullness, of course, is the Hayabusa. Nothing looks like a Busa and regardless of how you may feel about it (and the type of person who stereotypically rides it), you can’t deny that it’s unique. There are rumors of a new Busa coming our way in or after 2020, which leads to my third piece of advice: put some effort into legitimately building upon your successes.
Few things in the motorcycling world irk me more than a Suzuki Z model. What’s the difference between a Hayabusa and a Hayabusa Z? Paint. The difference between a GSX-S1000F and a GSX-S1000FZ? Paint. The difference between a GSX-S750 and a GSX-S750Z? You guessed it: paint. Fuck that noise*. Rather than regurgitating the same thing over and over and over, I’d like to see Suzuki working to truly improve the models that have been hits with riders. Similar to what BMW does with its GS series.
That doesn’t mean simply adding heated grips to the V-Strom, but making real improvements and advances that will make current owners think: “Oh, I need to upgrade.”
In fairness, Suzuki may be working toward that. The caveat to my Recursion criticism from above is the fact that in the past week or so there’s been news that Suzuki has re-trademarked the Katana name. The rumors are that Suzuki plans to use it with its Katana-looking Recursion. Which, I have to admit, would be pretty awesome. I’m personally not into the look of an old Katana but I’m very much behind a company that is able to connect its past and its future in that way. Especially if it does things right (ie, fit and finish are important).
Similarly, there are less reliable rumors that the Hayabusa of the future will be turbo-charged. If those rumors prove true, I’d hope the bike would be dripping with cutting-edge technology, reflecting the spirit of what it was supposed to be when introduced almost two decades ago.
I’d like to see the V-Strom line-up better differentiated – a more robust 650 and a considerably more powerful, more road/touring-focused 1000. I feel the company may want to consider abandoning cruisers entirely, because it’s getting that genre so very wrong. And the GSX-S1000FT is bullshit; if you think there’s viability in the sport-touring market give the GSX-S1000F a chassis that can actually support panniers, rather than lazily slapping on a tank bag and tail pack and calling it a day.
My last piece of advice to Suzuki may be a local thing, as each market behaves slightly differently. But as far as the UK is concerned, my advice is this: stop constantly undercutting yourself with finance deals, freebies, and price reductions within a year of releasing a bike.
In Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland it is established truth that you should not purchase a new/updated/refreshed Suzuki model until at least a year after its initial release. This is because within six months of hitting dealerships the bike will be the target of deal sweeteners like free luggage, then a 0-percent finance offer, then a sweetener with finance offer, then, ultimately, a reduction in price. Then perhaps even more sweeteners and finance offers.
I mentioned this phenomenon in a previous article, pointing out that the overhauled Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure hit the market in 2014 at about £11,000, but roughly a year later I bought one for £2,000 less on 0-percent finance, with heated grips and a center stand thrown in for free. Any of the folks who came in on the ground floor with that one must feel like idiots, and even I feel a little silly – to the extent that I would not again buy a Suzuki new for fear of getting screwed over.
That represents a serious problem for Suzuki. Previous owners feel burned or overly cautious and that means new owners are going to become harder and harder to find. Suzuki needs to break this cycle. Part and parcel of building new and inspiring bikes is being confident they will sell. That won’t be easy if you’ve taught the market that it should sit on its hands for a year or more before seriously considering your products.
I’m fearful I may be burning bridges with this particular article. When I was at RideApart I earned a lifetime advertising ban from Kenda for saying its Indian-branded tires for the Scout were “piss poor” (They were, though. Which is why Indian has replaced them with Pirellis as the stock tire). If you put something on the internet, it will be seen by a manufacturer and some have thin skins. I don’t really know how Suzuki takes criticism, but I have to accept that in writing this it may result in someone somewhere saying: “He never again gets access to our bikes.”
That would be a shame if Suzuki were to get its act together – something that is entirely possible. Take a look at my attitude toward Harley-Davidson four years ago as opposed to my attitude now as an example of how a company can dramatically change opinions relatively quickly. If Suzuki carries on doing the same ol’ same ol’ however, I reckon I won’t be too upset by whatever repercussions come of my calling it out for doing so.
*Yeah, but, Chris, what’s the difference between an Indian Chieftain and an Indian Chieftain Dark Horse? Exactly. I think that (and the Dark Horse’s £1,000 mark-up) is dumb, too.