The Land Speed Record for Bad Ideas
By Charles Krome
Okay, here’s another one for the “what were they thinking?” file:
Let’s say you’ve got an auto company that’s seen some relatively big success outside of the U.S. but has never quite found its mojo in the states. Not so many years ago you were selling 100,000 vehicles a year here, but at this stage in the game, your total monthly sales are under the 2,000-unit mark and your best-seller in July only found 788 customers.
But one of those products is a sharp new mid-size sedan with notably nimble handling—its development included the requisite trip to the Nurburgring—as well as a trunkful of kudos from reviewers, third-party quality groups and customers alike. For what it’s worth, the vehicle was even rated as the top car from the whole industry in the 2010 AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Awards.
In fact, just about the only thing missing from this package is a hi-po turbocharged version that would let drivers take full advantage of that sport-tuned suspension. And unfortunately, changes in the international automotive scene have taken that option off the table for the foreseeable future.
So, how do you build buzz for your hot-handling but underpowered and naturally aspirated midsize sedan? You send it off to set a straight-line land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. In the Blown Gas Coupe category, of course.
I mean, I guess it’s possible that Suzuki is going to sell a few extra Kizashis by building one with a type of engine that customers can’t get and sending it to a place where customers can’t drive and turning up a top speed of 203.720 mph. But I’m not going to hold my breath here.
While I’m a believer in the “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” business, I also believe it requires a tad more of a connection between what you’re racing and what you’re selling than what we’re seeing with this Suzuki effort. The Bonneville Kizashi isn’t quite as far from a production model as a NASCAR Fusion is from a factory Ford, but then again, the difference between racing on the salt—which usually conjures up images of purpose-built jet-powered rocket cars—and NASCAR, with its historic roots as a “stock” car series, is much greater.
And remember, too, that growing pressure to see more customer-relevant racers on the track has now become strong enough that even America’s premier form of racing is (slowly) taking steps to address the situation. Just imagine how this kind of bias stacks the deck against Suzuki.
In the end, the whole Kizashi thing makes about as much sense to me as, oh, expecting Richard Petty to help sell Ford Fiestas.