Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The other shoe drops at Suzuki, and idle speculation about the company's MotoGP status

It remains to be seen what effect American Suzuki Motor Corporation's Chapter 11 bankruptcy has on its motorcycle business in the U.S. It's possible that freed from the dead weight of the car business in the U.S., Suzuki's motorcycle (and ATV and Marine) segments will flourish again. Of course, it's also possible that Suzuki's car division was helping to defray some of the motorcycle division's overhead. Either way, the motorcycle division will have to live or die on its own.
The latest generation of the Suzuki Swift got generally positive press from European car writers. But, Suzuki's abandoned the U.S. market -- ironically, just as American car buyers are showing renewed interest in small, fuel efficient autos. Suzuki couldn't resist a cheap shot at U.S. regulators on the way out, citing "the disproportionally high and increasing costs associated with stringent state and federal regulatory requirements unique to the U.S. market."
Note that Suzuki's only getting out of the U.S. car business, not out of the car business altogether. It's got high hopes for continued growth in the Indian market. Suzuki owns 50% of Maruti Suzuki, which is India's largest automaker.

Meanwhile, I note that the other day, Dorna told Suzuki -- which had expressed an interest in a testing-the-waters return to MotoGP in 2014 -- that there was no coming back for a single season. It would have to commit to three years (2014-'16) which would bring their contracts into line with Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati. All of them are presumably contracted to compete through 2016.

Leaving aside the questionable strategic wisdom of having everyone's contract end at the same time (which wouldn't be my choice, if I was Ezpeleta) there didn't used to be much leverage in such contracts. Remember that Kawasaki basically blew MotoGP off at the beginning of the recession, and Dorna basically had to take it. Aggressively going after a manufacturer claiming, essentially, force majeure would not make the Spaniards seem like attractive business partners to any future OEMs considering entering the series.

When Kawasaki bailed out of MotoGP, it maintained a minimal presence in World SBK that started to show results last season and which really blossomed this year, with 16 podium finishes. But Dorna's hard line with Suzuki looks very different now that it also controls World SBK.

Ezpeleta hasn't said, "If Suzuki crosses us in MotoGP, we'll fuck them over in World Superbike." But you have to wonder if that's been implied. Suddenly, there really is only one game in town...


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