Osamu Suzuki to retire after over 4 decades at the helm

by Akbar Merchant, Autocar India 25 Feb 2021


Ninety-one-year-old Osamu Suzuki, who has led Suzuki Motor Corporation (SMC) since 1978, is finally calling it a day.

Following a Board of Directors meeting held yesterday, he is step down from his current role in April 2021. He will have served as the brand's chairman for 21 years. Mr Suzuki was also the CEO of SMC until 2016, until he was replaced by his son Toshiro Suzuki, who is currently president and CEO.

Osamu Suzuki’s contribution to the global automotive scene has been massive, having made SMC one of the world’s largest small carmakers. India and Maruti Suzuki – the jewel in SMC’s crown – is of particular importance to SMC, as Japan’s smallest carmaker grew to become India’s largest, thanks to his vision and determination. His legendary acumen at cost control is also well known.

In June last year, Osamu Suzuki had reached out to Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) component suppliers to solicit their support during the Covid-19 related lockdown. He had urged them to ready a “contingency plan for production recovery and inventory increase in preparation for the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.”

During his tenure, Osamu Suzuki steered the company into alliances with major global automotive brands like General Motors in 1981 and also with Volkswagen in December 2009, so that VW could access Suzuki’s small-car expertise and the Japanese firm could take advantage of VW’s technology. The VW-Suzuki alliance was dissolved in 2011. Suzuki also had a JV with Chongqing Changan Automobile since 1995 to co-produce small cars in China. Both brands parted ways in 2018.

SMC currently has a global alliance with Toyota that was formalised in 2019. This partnership has already introduced products like the Toyota Urban Cruiser and the Glanza hatchback in India and will also have modes like a Creta-rivalling SUV from both the brands in future. Additionally, the Suzuki A-Cross SUV and the Swace wagon are supplied by Toyota and are sold overseas by Suzuki outlets.

In an interview in October 2015 with Autocar India editor Hormazd Sorabjee, he said: “The key to making a small car is to make a success of the concept of a minimum standard for cost and quality. Besides ‘Make in India’, you also require ‘Quality in India’ and ‘Cost in India’. When you make small vehicles, the profit on them is also small. The total value of the car is also less. But this is precisely the challenge one must take...To ensure the base level of quality in the vehicle, you have to get the cost right, specifically for small cars.”

On March 15, 2020, Suzuki Motor Corporation celebrated its centenary. Founded as Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company by Michio Suzuki, the company has metamorphosised into a giant, its business expanding from looms to motorcycles, automobiles, outboard motors and ATVs, adapting to the trend of the times as well as domestic and global markets.

SMC today, of course, is known more for its cars. After changing its name to Suzuki Motor Co Ltd in 1954, Suzuki launched the Suzulight – the first mass-produced mini vehicle in Japan. The company name was then changed to ‘Suzuki Motor Corporation’ in 1990, in view of its business expansion and globalisation. Big numbers were to follow after the setting up of Maruti Suzuki India, the joint venture established in 1982 between Suzuki Motor Corp and the government of India. Today, Maruti Suzuki, which sold 1.3 million cars in FY2020 and a leading exporter of passenger vehicles, is the jewel in Suzuki's crown. Also see: