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Raising a toast to the Maruti Suzuki Swift

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 23, 2018






The car turns ten this week. We take a trip down memory lane and see how it has become the go-to hatch for the Indian family.

A little over a decade ago a bunch of bleary-eyed motoring journalists, including yours truly, were up at 3 in the morning to test drive a secretive new car from Maruti. The location was the empty stretches of land in Manesar, very near where the company’s third plant stands today.

Even for a group of journalists that is used to the rigours of pre-launch test drives this was an unearthly hour, and the rationale that the public shouldn’t get a glimpse of the car yet was very one-sided. But it was a Maruti test drive, which meant that the car will invariably be extremely important. And that was how we got introduced to the new Swift - in the dark, with no chance of snapping it on camera.

New benchmark

The Suzuki Swift turns ten this week and it is more than just a symbolic milestone. The Swift significantly altered the brand image of both the Japanese company and its Indian subsidiary. After the Swift — while globally Suzuki was taken more seriously in the passenger car space and not just assumed to be good with two-wheelers — Maruti was being looked at in new light for the quality and freshness of design that this model brought with it.

The Swift was codenamed the first ‘World Strategic Model’. It was conceived to be a departure from Suzuki’s previous platforms, a game-changer in terms of perceived quality and it had to have universal appeal to be able to break into markets across the world. By about early 2000, Maruti’s portfolio only consisted of the Alto, WagonR and the Zen as the flagship. The step up from these cars were all from competing brands. Suzuki’s plan then was to come up with one global model featuring a unified design that was to be manufactured globally in countries such as Hungary, China, India and Japan.

Many firsts

The strategy extended into factors such as global sourcing, standard quality across markets and the car sporting the same name globally.

The Swift’s design is said to have been influenced to some extent by Suzuki’s motorcycles. But it was clear even from the early sketches that the car will be a fairly aggressive, sporty and young-at-heart model. The concepts S and S2, which were showcased in 2002-2003, gave us a sense of how the final production car might look like. After it was finally launched in May 2005, the Swift had a string of firsts to its credit. It was the first model to sport the Suzuki ‘S’ mark logo. Sales crossed the one lakh-mark in about 18 months since launch. The car also underwent a full model change when there were nearly 20,000 customer orders still pending delivery.

For the first time, a large contingent of 25 engineers participated in the Suzuki Global Concept team contributing to India-spec requirements. It was also the first car for which Maruti attempted embedded marketing where the Swift was part of the Bollywood movie ‘Bunty Aur Babli’.

The Swift inspired a whole generation of passionate buyers to customise their cars, showing off their creativity by adding body side kits, upsized tyres, contrast roofs and even dual paint jobs.

Looking ahead

The Swift has sold more than 1.3 million units since its launch. Of course, the platform also spawned other models in the portfolio. Many of Maruti Suzuki’s later day launches, in a sense, owe a part of their success to the Swift’s contribution in changing the company’s brand image. In the words of Eiji Mochizuki, Chief Engineer, Compact Cars for Suzuki Motors, who is also considered the father of the Swift, “many lessons were learnt while developing the Swift, lessons that will be used for all future Suzuki vehicles. The Swift marked a whole new beginning for the company”.

The car delivered on its promise of boosting Maruti’s and Suzuki’s image and handing the company a substantial success story. The design still looks fresh. But there is a whole bunch of competing cars that are nipping at its heels. The next ten years for this model promises to be just as interesting.

Published on May 07, 2015

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