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Suzuki to rev up India with first new SUV in 35 years

Flagging sales spur Japanese automaker to target rural market with new model

Suzuki Motor will introduce a new mini-SUV in India, based on the Jimny Sierra pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Suzuki Motor)

TOKYO -- Suzuki Motor is launching its first new mini four-wheel SUV in 35 years and expanding showrooms in rural areas as it seeks to bolster flagging sales in India, its largest market.

The new model is the successor to the Gypsy, which local unit Maruti Suzuki began producing in 1985. The car went offline this March because of delays in safety updates, including the installation of air bags -- now legally required in India.

Mini-sports utility vehicles still enjoy solid demand in India. They are favored for transporting agricultural products through the country's unpaved roads. Suzuki is targeting the rural market with a new model, which could be produced locally and go on sale as early as this fiscal year.

The vehicle will be based on the Jimny Sierra mini-SUV, which was revamped for the first time in two decades and launched in Japan last July. The Gypsy was based off the original Jimny.

Suzuki is also looking to expand its fleet of glass-walled trailers that serve as mobile showrooms. Maruti Suzuki operate roughly 3,000 dealerships in India, about 360 of which are dedicated to luxury vehicles. But it has been slow to expand to rural areas.

Since entering the Indian market in 1982, Suzuki has become the country's leading automaker with a roughly 50% market share. But new-car sales fell 20% on the year in the April-June quarter to about 370,000 vehicles, due to a weakening in emerging economy currencies and an economic slowdown.

"We are only operating in a third of India's communities," Suzuki Chaimran Osamu Suzuki said. The automaker hopes that the new model and mobile showrooms will help boost its presence in the rest of the country.

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