Suzuki Philippines formally launched the second generation Celerio hatchback last Tuesday. Introduced globally at the 12th Auto Expo in Greater Noida, India, last year in February, this larger iteration signals global Suzuki Motor’s commitment to a sub-segment that first gained traction in some emerging markets but is now universal enough for the carmaker to use the Celerio name in all countries where the model is being offered.
During the launch, Suzuki Philippines President Hiroshi Suzuki said: “We are very excited to showcase our A+ compact design to the Filipino market.” The A-segment in itself is not a strictly defined category but has been used on smaller sub-compacts with lengths of 3.7m or less. Such a broad range allows carmakers to use the A label, along with its positive connotations, for all vehicles ranging from Japan’s trademark Kei cars to sub-compact city cars.
Before the Celerio model was introduced into the Suzuki line-up, there was a noticeable gap on the bigger end of the A-segment, between the Kei-sized 3.4m long Alto and the 3.8m Swift sub-compact hatchback. A gap that has been felt not as much in Suzuki’s native Japan (where the Alto retains a strong draw despite diminished tax benefits on Kei cars), but more in emerging markets like India where the Maruti Suzuki joint-venture is the biggest carmaker with more than half of overall market share.
An emergent niche
The smaller 3.4m Alto for the Philippine market is actually the Indian version that Maruti Suzuki first introduced in 2000 based on the facelifted fifth-generation from Suzuki Motor in Japan—which, looking further back, is an evolution of the Suzuki Fronte once marketed here in the 1980s.
Maruti Suzuki has had years of experience with the Alto line, instead of keeping pace with Japan’s further evolution of the 3.4m Alto, they stretched the lifespan of each model generation. While Japan subsequently developed a sixth generation Alto in 2004 and a seventh in 2009, all with lengths of 3.4m (to be exact, 3.395m), Maruti Suzuki stayed with their fifth generation platform, though also introducing their own version’s second generation with new bodywork just last year. Instead of more Alto generations, Maruti Suzuki invested its efforts in a bigger A-segment offering, creating their A-Star concept car which, in Car and Driver’s estimation, upstaged the like-sized Splash concept developed jointly by Suzuki Japan and Edmond Opel AG when both cars were shown at the Geneva auto show in February 2008.
Maruti Suzuki quickly adapted the A-Star concept into a production model based on the Alto platform’s 2,360mm wheelbase but with wider treads, an overall length of 3.5m, and the bigger 998cc engine offered on the Alto’s top-spec K10 variant. In the same year, by December 2008, they introduced the new model, naming it the A-Star—after its concept car origin—but only in India, the new 3.5m long production model was confusingly still called the Alto in upscale export markets. And, in countries where Suzuki was already offering the 3.4m Alto, that new model took the name Celerio.
The rival concept developed by Suzuki Japan and Opel also made it to production in 2008, re-branded as the Opel Agila in Germany, named the Suzuki Splash for European markets, and even joining Maruti Suzuki’s India market line-up as the Ritz. Also based on the Alto platform’s 2,360mm wheelbase, the Splash production model was made much bigger than its concept, longer even than the A-Star concept and Celerio production model, with an overall length of 3.7m. Assembled in Hungary by Magyar Suzuki, and in India by Maruti Suzuki, the Splash hasn’t yet had a generation update. In comparison, while its first generation was manufactured only in Haryana, India, the Celerio now has a second generation with several Suzuki sites in Asia tooled for its manufacture.
Expanded production, bigger dimensions
“The previous Celerio was from India, this new one is from Thailand,” says Suzuki Philippines General Manager for Automobile Shuzo Hoshikura. Left unsaid was the fact that the shift in supply comes with the expansion of the Celerio’s production lines, adding Suzuki Motor Thailand to that of Maruti Suzuki in India.
Hoshikura explains that based on customer feedback generally expressing how the zippy Celerio platform could be bigger, roomier, Suzuki moved to upsize the second generation model into the A+ sub-segment. That plussed “A” reference is ironically appropriate since the 2008 first generation’s basis in the A-Star concept car was followed by the 2014 second generation’s initial articulation in Maruti Suzuki’s A:Wind concept first shown at the Thailand International Motor Expo in November 2013.
The A:Wind, like the A-Star before it, was quickly adapted into the second-generation Celerio production model, this time based on the Suzuki MR Wagon platform’s longer 2,425mm wheelbase, though again with wider treads and an overall length of 3.6m. The new Celerio is still powered by the 998cc K10B engine but made 9kg lighter and now offered with a CVT automatic gearbox.
The tale of the tape between the first and second generation Celerio shows significant up-ticks in dimension, but with rational engineering to pare down the weight. Longer by 100mm on a proportionately stretched 2,425mm wheelbase; taller with a 70mm increase in height, and deeper with a 5mm decrease in ground clearance; and coming with a model-defining increase in cargo space from 110liters to a best-in-class 254liters, the new Celerio still manages to weigh in at the same 860kg, though with the heavier CVT, and even 30 less at 830kg with the same 5-speed manual gearbox, of its former self.
Joining the big-league mainstream
Notwithstanding Suzuki’s reference to a bigger A+ sub-segment, the new Celerio’s size really just puts it squarely against the top-selling Toyota Wigo. Same length at 3.6m; the Celerio slightly narrower by 20mm which might mean better city maneuverability, and offset by headroom that’s 20mm taller; the same 4.7m turning radius but with the Suzuki hatch possibly more responsive with a wheelbase that’s 90mm shorter and reportedly sprung on a “Swift-based” suspension platform; bigger cargo space with a 254 liter volume that beats even the 235 liters of the longer 3.7m Mitsubishi Mirage hatch; an engine with the same 998cc displacement of the Wigo’s but with 3hp and 3lb-ft more output at 67hp and 66lb-ft peak power and torque; and with lower consumption promised by a friction-mitigating VVT versus the Wigo’s conventional, non-dynamic valvetrain, as well as a CVT automatic option versus the Toyota hatch’s conventional torque converter 4-speed AT. Even their origins from global brand subsidiaries in emerging markets are similar, the Celerio coming from India’s Maruti Suzuki, the Wigo from Indonesia’s Astra Daihatsu.
For the Suzuki Celerio to come close to Toyota Wigo sales volumes, even with its bigger new generation model, remains a tall order. Hoshikura says that Suzuki Philippines has sold 5,800 units of the first generation Celerio since it was introduced in this market. A far cry from the 9,062 units reported for the Wigo for 2014 alone, yes, but the main draw of the Toyota marque has been the economies of scale and longevity that have made their models cheaper to maintain and that have imbued these with higher resale values, and these factors don’t apply as much to the Wigo which Toyota sourced from subsidiary Daihatsu to enter the micro-hatch segment only in 2013.
If there’s any carmaker out there that could challenge Toyota in the micro-hatch segment—just as Mitsubishi has done here in the compact SUV class with their Montero, and as Ford has in pick-ups with their Ranger, or even as Volkswagen has done just recently, a slight lead putting them at the top and finally unseating Toyota on the global stage—Suzuki, particularly its Maruti Suzuki subsidiary, seems to be it. With the basic A -segment already covered by their smaller and much lower priced Alto (P388k versus the Wigo’s lowest base price of P468), Suzuki has positioned the Celerio with trim levels and prices that brazenly challenge the Wigo’s main-tier manual and automatic G variants, leaping over the Toyota hatch’s base E variant and ignoring its dressed up topline TRD version.
Even without the P20k discounts they are now offering for early reservations, Suzuki puts new Celerio prices at P507k for the MT variant and P542 for the CVT. While these prices would’ve both been just P4k lower than the counterpart MT and AT Wigo G prices at initial market levels, the price delta is now a significant P14k less for Celerios after Toyota’s 2015 price updates. This Suzuki challenge, I don’t think Toyota saw it coming.
Digressing a bit onto Toyota’s view of the field, will rivalry from Suzuki or any other challenger cause them to lower their prices? With the giant’s long-running stand of projecting premium “made in Japan” value, they could instead replace their micro-hatch offering with the Toyota-designed new generation Aygo, putting themselves in a higher price-point bracket with a more upscale micro that sports a design language unmistakably the same as that of their bigger Yaris, Vios and Altis models. Or, they could pull out of the micro-hatch segment altogether. Either way though, the thousands of Wigo owners they now have are likely to react negatively. So yes, maybe a price decrease is the more likely response, at least initially.
By now, our market must already be as globally sensitive as the rest of the world. We suspect that top-tier brands are likely no longer manufactured or even designed in home countries that had once resonated with promises of exceptional quality and shine. Carmakers themselves give back-handed acknowledgement to this by highlighting how particular high end models are still assembled and shipped over from the US, Japan, Germany and the like.
Suzuki Philippines, while not really obscuring the fact that the Celerio is a Maruti Suzuki creation, seems not to make the most of opportunities to highlight this. But there’s this symmetry, this elegance to emerging market models being manufactured by emerging market subsidiaries. At the very least, the designers must share our sensibilities, our appetite for stretching the utility and bolstering, if not creating, the prestige of an efficient, environmentally friendly and unmistakably classy micro-hatchback.
And, for the savvy, there’s the realization that with models coming from emerging markets that stretch the lifespan of each generation to save on tooling between upgrades, there’s the very real benefit of there already being a large pool of replacement parts manufacturers whose product could then be stocked by automotive aftermarket traders at lower risk, and lower carrying costs.
Proof of the pudding
But proof of all these good things maybe happening, as the old saw goes, is in the eating. The new Celerio to be shipped from, by now, Thailand’s veteran automaking production lines, will have to deliver on the promise.
It’s not just a plus but an imperative that the Celerio manifest the benefits that Suzuki Philippines President Hiroshi Suzuki further asserted at Tuesday’s launch: “You will all be amazed with the architecture of this model, particularly its best-in-class luggage capacity, superb ease and comfort in driving, and outstanding fuel efficiency. We are confident that this all-new Suzuki Celerio will set a new standard for its kind.”
The new Celerio comes in eight sensuously labelled colors. There are the four in distinguished monochromatic shades: Snow White Pearl, Star Silver Metallic, Mineral Grey Metallic, and Super Black Pearl. There are the other four in vibrant young hues: Ablaze Red Pearl, Cerulean Blue, Sunshine Yellow, and familiar Raspberry Pink. And they’ve brought in advanced demo units for each color, all with the new CVT automatic option.
Obviously, the new Celerio is a developing story. And, while the color options are exceptional in their breadth, what matters more is that Suzuki has brought in quite a number of advanced demo units with at least eight new Celerios on which industry observers can validate their assertions.
So, If we don’t get to test it ourselves soon, just keep Googling and you should be able to find a hands-on review sooner than later. Or visit a Suzuki showroom yourself and maybe schedule a test drive, feel it out and see if the Suzuki Celerio really is the giant-killer that it can be.