Suzuki Celebrates 50 Years in America at Indy

August 20, 2013
Byron Wilson
Byron Wilson
Associate Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

Byron's sure to be hunched over a laptop after the checkers are flown, caught in his own little version of heaven. Whether on dirt, street or a combination of both, MotoUSA's newest addition knows the only thing better than actually riding is telling the story of how things went down.

Suzuki revealed a 2014 GSX-R1000 Special Edition during its 50th Anniversary celebration at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Suzuki revealed a 2014 GSX-R1000 SE during its 50th Anniversary celebration at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Suzuki celebrated its 50th year of business in the United States during the 2013 Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, offering attendees the chance to see a wide array of Suzuki products, projects and history in its Fan Zone located between Turns 1 and 2 at the track.

The grounds were open to all but offered special amenities to Suzuki owners, including a hospitality area right on the fence of the track, where, incidentally, fans were afforded a front row seat to the pass Marc Marquez made on Jorge Lorenzo during the MotoGP race which put him in the lead. There was a tech inspection station where riders could bring their bikes to be evaluated by a Suzuki service technician, the first time Suzuki has offered such a feature at one of its events. There was also a Suzuki owner photo booth where riders got the chance to take a professional photo with their machines and a gear check area so owners could leave their belongings in a protected spot while they explored all IMS had to offer.

Suzuki’s presence included displays of its various available models, Michael Jordan Motorsports, National Guard Suzuki and Yoshimura Suzuki retrospectives, and a kid’s zone with Striders, temporary tattoos and other games to help keep the little ones amused.

For the most part, this is par for course at such events. Manufacturers present their wares to the fans in attendance, vying as they can for the attention of passers-by, using everything from large, circus-style tents to stand out on the horizon to full dance-party DJs blaring tunes that can still be heard over the roar of passing GP machines. It’s a chance for race fans, riders and everyone in between to experience a diverse cross-section of the motorcycle marketplace viscerally in a centralized location during a single weekend.

The entrance to Suzukis Fan Zone displayed a number of advertisements used during its 50 years of business in the United States.
More Suzuki advertisements from over the years.
The entrance to Suzuki’s Fan Zone displayed a number of advertisements used during its 50 years of business in the United States.

Suzuki was in a unique position though. In addition to celebrating its 50th year in 2013, it also saw the end of automobile production in the States following approval of bankruptcy filings in March. The restructured organization now focuses solely on powersports offerings in America, and it sought to reaffirm its commitment to the industry in the US during the celebration at Indy with the expansive array of displays and numerous members of staff on hand.

Walking into the Fan Zone, attendees passed through an archway with various advertising examples from the initial years of business in the US and were then greeted with a review of the company’s history, from 1963 to the present day. The retro ads featured a number of models, like the T-350 Rebel, the T-500 II Titan, the TS 250, AC-100 Wolf and others. One striking ad has a Suzuki Sport 50 listed with a retail value of $281, a compelling sign of just how much things have changed in the 50-year period.

Suzuki trained service techs checked the basics from tire pressure, cable tension, tire wear and fluids. They also made sure riders with models affected by recent recalls were aware to seek repairs from dealers.

Everyone in the Fan Zone had the chance to meet current race stars such as Yoshimura Suzuki’s Martin Cardenas and National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Roger Hayden during the autograph and photo sessions staged over the weekend, or to simply sit on the wide variety of models currently available.

Owners met and mingled, sharing stories of rides and bikes past and had the opportunity to deepen their sense of community with riders from across the continent. Management and staff from Suzuki engaged with attendees at every opportunity, seeking opinions on current operations and ideas for future development. This social element was a primary motivator for Suzuki to organize the event according to Vice President of Motorcycle/ATV Division, Larry Vandiver.

“We try to get as much (customer input) as we can. That’s what’s nice about events like this. I’m a firm believer that you have to keep that input coming.

“One of the things we talked to our people about prior to this event is that we wanted to take care of the Suzuki rider, and part of this celebration is a thank you to our customers.”

Vandiver also acknowledged that this is a particularly crucial time for Suzuki to demonstrate its dedication to existing customers and to cultivate relations with potential customers in light of the recent organizational changes within the company.

“It’s a big deal (the 50th). We became solely dedicated to motorcycle, ATV and marine business in the United States and it was hard to do what we had to do. When I started in 1977 this was the company, until ’85. We were always a motorcycle company, and in ’77 we introduced marine. In a way we went full circle. It has given us a renewed enthusiasm and spirit for motorcycles and the motorcycle industry.

Suzuki techs were on hand to inspect Suzuki owners motorcycles  free of charge  to see if there were any needed repairs or maintenance.
Suzuki techs were on hand to inspect Suzuki owners’ motorcycles, free of charge, to see if there were any needed repairs or maintenance.

“Now the whole emphasis is on what we need to do to grow our motorcycle, ATV and marine business. We have a really big investment here (in America) and this is going to take the company forward in the future.”

As a result of the shift away from automobiles, collaboration between the American division and Japan has become more distinct.

“Just recently we had a group of five engineers from Japan doing customer surveys, one-on-one surveys,” added Vandiver. “There have been a lot more meetings and more input.”

Idea sharing has increased with other countries as well. During a recent meeting distributors from all over the world came to the US to participate in a product inquiry led by the American division to brainstorm future product development.
In terms of thinking ahead, Vandiver addressed the question of entry-level, small displacement motorcycles that have recently inundated markets and whether Suzuki has plans to develop anything similar to models like the Kawasaki Ninja 300 or Honda CRF250R.

“We’re studying (entry level) every day. The first thing my dealers tell me is that it needs to be a GSX-R, but we need to find ways to keep the costs down. We made a different move by bringing zero interest, which brought payments way down. The Yoshimura slip-on muffler has been amazing also (offering a Yosh slip-on exhaust or $400 in customer cash for certain models). I didn’t know what to expect when we started with the GSX-R and Hayabusa. I thought more people would have taken the cash, but they’re taking the slip-on. Just like zero interest, we’re looking for more ways to add value to the customer’s purchase.”

The concept of “added value” was certainly apparent at the 50th, and the move to expand and solidify a base of “Suzukisti” seems well-placed in America. Take the Hayabusa, for example. There were numerous examples of customized ‘Busas on display and during the show Suzuki announced the winner in the Ultimate Hayabusa Challenge. The movement to make show vehicles of ‘Busas parallels Harley-Davidson’s chopper culture. An entire aftermarket parts subculture centers around Hayabusa motorcycles and cliques have sprung up that creatively customize the machines. Another analogous element to Harley-Davidson is the idea that, by buying bikes like Suzuki’s Hayabusa, customers are also buying into a culture of motorcycling and become part of a larger picture. Cultivating brand loyalty is an especially potent way of creating a lasting, sustainable consumer base.

Suzuki plans to announce its 2014 line during the inaugural AIMExpo in Orlando and has already teased that a new DL1000 is on the way. The company is set to make its return to the MotoGP grid in 2015 as well, a welcome sign that R&D is hard at work. The energy of staff and the extended Suzuki family was palpable during the 50th anniversary and it appears the company is deeply committed to reinvigorating the brand in the States. And that’s a very good thing as energized, forward-thinking manufacturers will only inspire more competition and better products.