Suzuki’s business development from weaving to bike and towards automobile
I had chance to visit Hamamatsu recently. There we could realize that major world-class motorcycle manufacturers, like Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, were all born and developed around this industrial zone in Shizuoka prefecture. Among them, Suzuki is quite strong in the motorbikes and lightweight vehicles business and holds quite big share in Asia. Then, I decided to visit the “Suzuki History Museum” in this occasion. The Museum exhibited many motorcycles and lightweight-cars which were produced by Suzuki while describing the evolution of its manufacturing there.
Suzuki History Museum HP: https://www.suzuki-rekishikan.jp/index.html
♣ Outline of Suzuki History Museum
The exhibition in the Museum is displayed in line following Suzuki’s business advancing process. At the first scene, it shows the first stage of Suzuki history by describing a founder Michio Suzuki’s episode regarding his unique product of “Double foot-operating loom system” and the story of establishment of his company, along with displaying this loom machine as well as various real automated looms which had developed after setting-up company and business expansion.
At the next corner, it introduces how the firm started to involve in the motorcycle business after the War. You could understand how Suzuki has opened up new business by this business conversion. It’s interesting that there various types of bikes developed during this time are exhibited as examples. Additionally, in the automobile field, a series of newly developed light-automobiles are displayed there too which produced in the expanding process to four-wheel vehicle sector. Also, the interesting exhibition is found at the other corner as well. There Suzuki’s current operation management concept is displayed, such as the process of creating new products, concept making and designing of motorcycles and automobiles. The demonstrations of production assembly lines are also attractive sector. In addition, at the Asia Corner, Suzuki’s business operational activities in overseas are nicely introduced. Let’s take a closer look at the contents of the exhibition with development history of Suzuki below.
♣ Founding of Suzuki as a loom maker
In this section, Suzuki’s business founding is introduced with an episode of the invention of Suzuki-type “Up-down Shuttle Box” loom by Michio Suzuki. According the explanation, Founder Suzuki produced a foot-operated type of loom after finishing his apprenticeship works in a carpenter shop in the young age. After that he decided to set up a new firm called “Suzuki loom Co.” because the loom machines he developed won the big market reputation, and he thought it had good prospects in future. Then, Suzuki began to produce the various automatic looms one after another adding new functions. The company was quite success in business by these efforts and could multiply its business, particularly Suzuki-type loom machines “One side 4 twill loom” became were exceptionally success because they could efficiently weave “Lattice patter” clothes which were very much favored in Asia, especially in Indonesia and the other southeast Asia. As a result, Suzuki could expand broadly their overseas market as a leading manufacturer in the following years.
On the other hand, Suzuki was showing its will to develop own automobiles in the 1930s by using of their textile machinery technology. (The development in this process might be similar with Toyota’s experience) At the History Museum, a number of looms at that time were displayed, along with the episode of Michio Suzuki and Suzuki’s business development.
♣ Business conversion to motorcycles and its evolution
Although the business was greatly expanded in the 1930s, Suzuki, which got seriously damage by the War, was forced to change its business strategy. What had directed to was the challenging to new cultivating motorcycle business by using engine technology of textile machinery and its related equipment. Then, Suzuki’s first Motorbike “Power Free” (launched in 1951) was born using remained equipment survived from the war with engineering skills being nourished in producing weaving machines. But the challenged new business by Suzuki was highly successful. The company tried to make a simple type of auto-bicycle, which equipped with small auxiliary engine to the bicycle. Soon this bike became quite popular and sold well because of its convenience and inexpensiveness, though similar bike was already produced by Honda in 1947 and gained the favorable reputation among consumers. As a matter of fact, these types of auto-bicycles were produced much by many makers reflected social demand to such vehicles, but they were soon disappeared by sever competition and poor-quality. Among them, Honda and Suzuki were survived and successfully expanded business supported by continuous improvement of quality and producing innovative new products. The person who explored this business was Shunzo Suzuki, a second president of Suzuki. His statue is proudly placed at the exhibition corner along with his first real model of “Power Free” there.
Since then, Suzuki was consecutively producing various new bikes based on this first model with advancing technology and expanding marketing
strategy. As these evidences, numerous newly motorbikes are exhibited in the hall to show its successful development. Among them, many models can be observed, includes the first full-fledged motorcycle production “Koleda 90cc” (1954), Suzuki “RM 63” winning the Isle of Man TT race, and the Diamond-free car traveling in Japan in 1953, and others. Meanwhile, in the development of the motorcycle business, the company’s name was changed to “Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd.”
♣ Challenge to Light-weight vehicle and its growth
In the 1950s, Suzuki began to entry into the 4-wheel automotive field by applying its pre-war technology experience. The vehicle named “Suzulight” (1955) is the one which produced as a lightweight-car for the first time in Japan. This was a really outstanding work that seemingly fitted to the Japan’s economic condition and the consumption pattern at that time. In the museum, the anecdote story pertaining challenge of this lightweight-car which was introduced using a life-size model and theater shows. There also an animating scene is provided that describes how light vehicle was accepted in the general families in this period. These settings are quite attractive for us to figure out of people’s lifestyle that time.
These lightweight cars have continuously changed and diversified in their feature down the road, like light vans, SVs, or light trucks for the commercial use , not only sedan type passenger cars, while the technology was proceeding from the first generation to second and third generation. At the museum, a number of the real automobiles are exhibited to indicate how expansion of light car market and its technology had advancement in this period. Among them, the “Suzuki “Jimny” in 1970 was a good example of the new type of light vehicle at that time. Furthermore, “Alto” in 1979, “Cartas” in 1983, and “Suzuki wagon R” in 1991 are known well as innovative products among them, besides recent “Swift” in 2004. These cars are extensively displayed in the hall to attract visitors.
While development of these mini vehicles in progress, technology of motorcycle has also significantly advanced and could cultivate massive domestic market and export. Then Suzuki’s name as a motorcycle manufacturer became greatly appreciated not only in the Japan but across the world, particularly in the Asian market. In the exhibition, various advanced motorcycles which developed in this market expansion were fully displayed in the hall. The “T350” in 1960, the “Crazy-doctor T500” in 1968, “RS-5” which mounted rotary engine in 1974, “GS750E” in 1978, the GSX400FS Impulse in 1982, , and the Bandit 400V in 1991 are proudly displayed side by side. They also published a new model of “Katana GSX” in 2000s.
♣ Road to the global light vehicle manufacturer
The advancement since the 1980s was outstanding especially in the Asian market, in addition to the launching of a new type vehicle “Wagon R”, which became a pioneer of general lightweight wagons, and “Swift” as a world strategic car. These movements are the Japanese history of lightweight car development itself. It can be said that Suzuki was one of the significant leading makers in the light cars Japan as well as in the world.
Furthermore, another interesting corner is available in the Museum. This is “World Adventure” corner which shows Suzuki’s worldwide operation scheme, including its overseas production bases and marketing channels. The uniqueness of this corner is the exhibition of Asian culture and history which were expressed in multiple languages to familiarize Suzuki’s overseas operation. It seems proclaiming how Suzuki is focusing on the Asian market now as its strategy.
♣ “Factory Corner” showing the site of Suzuki’s technology development
One of the attractive points in the museum would be the exhibition that Suzuki’s current production lines are fully revealed in the museum. For example, the making process of motorcycle and four-wheel vehicle are extensively shown in the full-scale models. So that visitors can understand how the vehicle is developed and manufactured by viewing them.
First, the way of setting-up new model of vehicle is introduced, and how to decide its design, process of creation of clay models and structures is clearly described, then how to make quality control and safety systems are also displayed in detail and actual car assembly lines are shown too. These are all exhibited by the dynamic moving models in the easy-to-understand manner in the museum.
♣ Remarks after Visit
-– Considering Hamamatsu area as an incubator of machine industry development
The industrial area around Hamamatsu, where Suzuki was borne, has been widely noted as an area being flourished in the machinery industry for long time. For example, Yamaha, which is famous for musical instruments and motorcycle products, Honda, a worldwide manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycle, and Toyota which is named outstanding business leader in the global automobile industry. These global manufacturers are all originated from the broader industrial region called “Chubu area” stretching from Hamamatsu to Nagoya. Hamamatsu Photonics is also noted in the electronic and optical manufacturers sector. It is believed that it is a rare industrial cluster zone to densely concentrate and develop machinery industries, particularly automobile industries in the world.
According to the officials of Hamamatsu City, the roots of these active industrial base could be “far backed to the Edo era, when the textile, lumber and woodworking industries had been flourished there and formed the economic foundation of Hamamatsu area.” And many innovative inventors and engineers were nurtured on these foundations. They insist these factors are continuously giving strong influence to the textile industry and weaving machines in this area since Meiji era, and even after the world War II. So, they say that numerous technological and entrepreneurs’ spirits born in this area under these environment.
And it made advancing their unique industries. For example, it could find there countless entrepreneurs, like Yamaha Torakusu (Yamaha Founder), Suzuki Michio (Suzuki Founder), Toyota Sakichi (Toyota Founder), Honda Soichiro (Honda Founder), Kawai Koichi (Kawai Instruments Founder), etc. The “Suzuki History Museum” made me recall these things. This time, my visit was only Suzuki Museum alone, but I felt I need to visit the “Toyota C. Museum of Industry and Technology” in Nagoya again and Honda’s “Soichiro Honda Craftsmanship Center” in Hamamatsu City before long.
- スズキ歴史館 HP https://www.suzuki-rekishikan.jp/index.html
- Suzuki Digital Museum – スズキ軽自動車の歩みー https://www.suzuki.co.jp/about/museum/
- 【自動車の歴史】スズキの歴史、ルーツと車種の特徴 https://car-moby.jp/78483
- 浜松産業観光(社会見学・工場見学) https://hamamatsu-daisuki.net/industry/