MANAGING OFFICER & DIVISION GENERAL MANAGER, AUTOMOBILE ASIA DIVISION, GLOBAL AUTOMOBILE MARKETING SUZUKI MOTOR CORPORATION
SHUJI Oishi cuts a smart, almost fatherly figure in a military green top and faded blue jeans, gamely posing for a photo in front of the new Suzuki Jimny whose launch I attended.
The Jimny is striking, brilliantly so, in its signature launch colour of Kinetic Yellow (though it’s closer to green if we’re honest).
And it’s part of a bright future for Suzuki Motor Corporation, which not too long ago announced a crazily ambitious plan to double their annual global sales to 7 million by 2030, a point that Oishi-san references in our interview.
It’s a future that he has had a hand in shaping. A younger Oishi-san wouldn’t have known it, but he would spend the next four decades at the company with most of it in Asia, where he headed sales and marketing for Indonesia and Thailand.
Oishi-san joined Suzuki Motor Corporation in April 1979, having graduated from the prestigious Aoyama Gakuin University in Shibuya, Tokyo.
In April 2006, he took up the post of senior manager at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. He spent six years in India, after which he was posted to Suzuki Motor Thailand as head of the Asean region.
A year after that, he took up the position of president of Suzuki’s Indonesian arm.
He continued to hold this position even when in July 2015, he became managing officer and division general manager for Suzuki’s automobile marketing division in Indonesia and Thailand.
In Nov 2016, Oishi-san became managing officer, president and head of sales for Suzuki Indonesia.
He currently holds the title of managing officer and division general manager, automobile Asia division, global automobile marketing.
AT SUZUKI, WE HAVE SET OURSELVES A VERY BIG TARGET TO INCREASE OUR VOLUME. BY 2030, WE WANT TO SELL 7 MILLION CARS.
As a brand, where do you see Suzuki standing in the automotive industry, and what does it aim to deliver to customers?
We have some answers, prepared by the Japanese head office. We must have official comments! (he says, tongue-in-cheek). We strive to create a truly valuable product to satisfy customers. To produce a car of highest Japanese quality, but always great value for money, and fun to drive. A Suzuki makes you feel young again.
In 2020, we’ll have our 100th anniversary, the founding of our company. We began producing automobiles in 1955. The idea behind manufacturing our vehicles has remained the same. We’re still surviving in this business.
What was your first car?
My first car was a Jimny, 40 years ago. It was a 550cc, 1980 Suzuki Jimny in military colours. For me, the new Jimny is a much-improved car.
The new Suzuki Jimny is an important car for the automaker, which has an ambitious plan to sell 7 million cars annually by 2030.
With so many years in this part of the world, how has living in South-east Asia shaped your perspective of the regional automotive market?
Frankly speaking, 30 years back, I expected more volume in Asia, but not so big compared with China or India. Now, Indonesia has a population of 250 million, Vietnam 100 million, Philippines about 100 million, but that hasn’t translated into an increase in volume. Maybe the infrastructure isn’t as good as compared to say, Singapore or Hong Kong.
The next stage, we expect a drastic change in the form of EVs, hybrid cars. With these new cars, the cost of vehicles will also drastically increase in price. There are so many people that cannot afford a car, and an EV is ten or twenty thousand more (than an ICE car).
In Japan, the government supports consumers with a $5000 tax credit. Under these conditions, more people can buy a car. But I think that there won’t be much increase in automobile volume in Asia because of the lack of such credits.
People ask me why do you make such small, compact cars. But for some people, they like a more compact 4x4, like the Jimny. We receive many requests to make the car and engine bigger but our engineers have kept to the concept of a compact 4x4.
How is Suzuki doing in the region, especially the Indian market?
From 2006 to 2012, I worked for Maruti Suzuki and lived in India for six years. Nobody (automakers) came to India then. They don’t expect much from the automobile market in India because profit margins there aren’t high.
We are very lucky. Indian people don’t want to spend a lot on their car, which ties in with our philosophy of manufacturing affordable cars.
Suzuki is known for its dependable, inexpensive cars. In the inevitable move towards electrification, what can Suzuki do to leverage on its strengths and balance the two?
It’s not so easy, and we can’t develop EV cars by ourselves. For that we collaborate with Toyota. Toyota has also wisely opened its technology to all automakers. Design is not the problem with EVs, but their powertrain. I’m not sure what is in store for electric cars. The next big thing could be hydrogen fuel cells or something similar.
The source of power for EVs is also a problem. In countries like Indonesia and India, power is still generated from coal. That’s a problem. For the automobile industry, we have to consider such a situation.
How do you see Suzuki positioning itself for the next 10 years?
At Suzuki, we have set ourselves a very big target to increase our volume. By 2030, we want to sell 7 million cars. India is a big market for us, and it’s growing there. We’re looking at all engine options too, not only focusing on EVs. And we’re counting on our dealer network to help us too.
Are you able to share about any upcoming models?
Maybe next time. I cannot mention anything now!
Do you think a market like Singapore is ready for electrification?
Of course it is ready. It’s very easy to install the EV infrastructure in Singapore, compared to Indonesia, where there are hundreds of islands – it’s impossible there.
Could we talk about you for a moment. What are the best things about living in South-east Asia?
Eating! I love Indian food. Through food, we communicate with each other better.