Suzuki simplifies Europeanization of new Swift

  • 10-Sep-2010 09:17 EDT

Suzuki's new Swift achieves a EuroNCAP 5-star safety rating. Its structure includes extensive use of high tensile steel (marked green on this view).

For non-European OEMs, engineering and designing cars for the highly discerning European market can be a challenge. That is why many companies—notably Japanese and South Korean—maintain extensive technical centers and design facilities in Europe that can carry out localized development work and feed back market requirements to their respective headquarters.

But Suzuki is an exception. Although it has an extensive major manufacturing facility (Magyar Suzuki Corp.) at Esztergom, Hungary, it has no technical center, and only a very small design facility opened in the past two years in Turin, Italy, which employs five people, two of whom work on motorcycle design.

“We started to develop the sketches of the car in Europe, the styling team remaining there for a long time in order to develop the best solution for European markets," Tetsuya Ozasa, Chief Designer of the Swift small car. "We considered this in great detail to ensure the best balance and design for European lifestyles.”

All body panels of the new car are different from those of the previous model; it is 90 mm (3.5 in) longer on a 50 mm (2.0 in) longer wheelbase and is 10 mm (0.4 in) taller.

So significant is the European aspect of the Swift that Suzuki chose to launch the “all new” fourth generation—described as a “world strategic model”—in Munich, Germany, not in Japan. Swifts are produced at seven plants around the world.

Mitsuhiko Onuma, Director, Automobile Engineering, Suzuki International Europe, explained that the new Swift, which has a clear “European-ness” about its aesthetics and particularly its chassis (handling and ride) and driving position, was developed for the European market simply by evaluating it on roads from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. It was also tested in the U.K. over routes in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire, in northeast England, is not generally associated with extensive vehicle testing, but an historical reason is that damper specialist Tenneco did have a facility there and continues to have a small presence in the U.K.

“But we have no European central technical center, and at present, no plans to establish one,” said Onuma. “However, we do get important feedback from our evaluation work in Europe. For the European market, we make decisions on basic design in Japan (the Swift’s front suspension incorporates MacPherson struts and coil springs, while at the rear there is a torsion beam and coil springs), but final decisions are made after European testing.”

Evaluating the Swift for Europe included 10,000 km (6200 mi) of test work.

An essential for making cars right for Europe is the required damper settings; average speeds are much higher than in Japan. And tire choice is also very important; European brands are used for the market.

Although the new Swift is described as “all new,” Suzuki's design and engineering philosophy is one of evolution not revolution.

Naoyuki Takeuchi, Chief Engineer for the Swift, emphasized the need for the new car to have the sort of handling that Europeans expect. “Therefore, we employed a completely new chassis and a new engine," he said. "Chassis changes include an improved layout for the front anti-roll bar and coil springs, with a higher rigidity suspension frame to improve roll stiffness and ride without a weight penalty.”

Rear suspension uses a lighter weight torsion beam with coil springs. An enhanced inclination angle for the torsion beam’s bushings give some 50% greater lateral rigidity in their mountings.

Despite its increase in size, the new Swift is 20 kg (44 lb) lighter than the outgoing model. The use of high tensile steel of up to 1570 MPa (228 ksi) for 52% of the car’s structure has been a major contributor to achieving this. Detail weight savings includes a redesigned muffler, saving 0.3 kg (0.7 lb), and switching from steel to plastic for the radiator, reducing mass by 1.5 kg (3.3 lb).

Body rigidity is improved by some 15% partly by using a smaller tailgate opening and wider sills. The new Swift has also achieved the EuroNCAP five-star safety standard. This has been achieved partly via the structural and dimensional changes.

The engine range includes a new Euro 5 1.2-L 69-kW (93-hp) designated K12B with dual VVT (Variable intake and exhaust Valve Timing) on both intake and exhaust valve timing that can be varied by 50º. CO2 emissions are a very low 116 g/km, a 17% improvement on the previous model’s comparable 1.3-L engine. A 1.3-L Fiat-sourced (Multijet) D13A diesel is also offered with CO2 emissions of 109 g/km. Auto stop-start is available on 1.2-L models in certain markets, including most of mainland Europe.

But its pan-European testing did not persuade Suzuki to link its small but efficient engines to a six-speed transmission and higher gearing. The five-speed manual gearbox used does have a newly adopted assist mechanism to reduce driver effort and has an optimized shift lever pattern as an added aid to smoothness.

“Our testing in Europe included Germany, U.K., Finland, and Spain. Further testing was undertaken in Japan and New Zealand, demonstrating that we really did develop a world strategy car,” stated Takeuchi.

Suzuki’s European links were strengthened in late 2009 via a partnership with Volkswagen, which has a 19% share in the company. Although Suzuki executives have given no details, it is expected that VW powertrains will be offered in the company’s models and that other technology elements of the German company will be adapted. However, the company stated that it would probably be two or three years before the real effect of the cooperation would emerge.

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