Ford and Dodge are set to take the North American International Auto Show with new full size pickups, leaving the Chicago Auto Show to Suzuki to debut its new 'Equator' midsize truck in February.
The Suzuki Equator will be based on the Nissan Frontier and will be built on the same line as the Frontier at Nissan's Smyrna assembly plant in Tennessee.
A trademark search turned up the Equator moniker, registered to American Suzuki Motor Corporation on November 5, 2007. Suzuki is being coy about the name. PR staff won't confirm or deny if it's correct. They are, however, clear that it won't be called the Koichi. ;-)
Building the Equator in North America, on an existing truck platform, reduces Suzuki's design, development, and production costs and lets the Japanese manufacturer avoid the so-called 'Chicken Tax' that slaps a 25% tariff on pickups imported into the U.S. that are built overseas.
The OEM is taking a big chance entering the U.S. small truck truck segment. Sales of almost every make and model in this class are down for the year.
Smaller truck manufacturers who have entered the segment have found adoption of their products extremely difficult - even when based on the trucks of U.S. manufacturers. Isuzu's pickup, built off the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon platform, has only sold 3,844 trucks year-to-date, and Mitsubishi's Raider, based on the Dodge Dakota, has sold 7,957 units through November.
At a recent event in California, Suzuki execs confirmed the Chicago introduction and said they believe that buyers of Suzuki's motorcycles and ATVs will be attracted to a Suzuki-badged pickup to haul their toys with.
This is the same message Suzuki broadcast seven years ago with the Grand Vitara Pickup concept. Sitting in its bed, on the floor of the Tokyo Motor Show, was a Suzuki ATV.
In 2000, though, Suzuki didn't have any partners or factories in North America to build the Grand Vitara Pickup at. Exporting a Japanese-built Grand Vitara Pickup to the U.S. would have priced such a truck out of the market because of the foreign-built import tax.
Suzuki has also shown that it's willing to get innovative with small trucks.
At this year's 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, Suzuki unveiled its brilliant X-Head concept. With looks like a baby Unimog and great styling, if Suzuki doesn't find success with the Equator, it looks like it has a good fallback plan.