Suzuki was founded in 1909 as the Suzuki Loom Works in Japan. That's not interesting. We'll fast forward to 1952, when the Suzuki "Loom" Works unveiled their Power Free motorized bicycle. Spurred by the success of their little motorized wonder, the founder and president Michio Suzuki changed its name to Suzuki Motor Works, Ltd. A few months later they unveiled the Colleda motorcycle and the Suzulight automobile, which was powered by an almost-laughable 360 cc, two-stroke engine. The 1960s saw the opening of US Suzuki Motor Corp., and the introduction of lightweight trucks and vans enter the lineup. (The Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Co. split off as an independent corporation in 1961)

The 1970s began with the introduction of the Jinmy 4x4, best described as a "little Jeep". The Jinmy (or LJ10) was powered by a 360 cc engine that put out only 21 horsepower, bringing it to a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour (thanks to low gearing). However, it featured a full-time four wheel drive system and could climb a 27° slope. Their two-wheeled lineup grew to include 750 and 1000 cc motorcycles much more powerful than their four-wheeled brethren. In addition, Suzuki marketed the Z600 motorized wheelchair, and the Suzuki Home line of prefabricated "mini-houses" and storage sheds.

In 1983, Suzuki released the Cultus (known in North America as the Suzuki Swift), a subcompact passenger car powered by a one-liter, three-cylinder engine. This engine was also manufactured for General Motors for use in the Geo Metro (and later the Chevy-badged Metro). In the same year, Suzuki began production of their popular four-wheelers in New Delhi, India. The Suzuki Swift GTi, released in 1986, was the company's first sporty car, and was powered by a 100-horsepower four-cylinder. These cars are still quite capable today, and utilize very unique modifications (such as Suzuki motorcycle parts) in order to produce higher levels of power.

The 1990s saw milestones. New automobile plants were opened in China, Hungary, and Egypt. Overseas automobile sales reached 10 million units just before the introduction of its US-market Grand Vitara 4x4. In 1999, Suzuki produced their 40 millionth motorcycle, and formed a business agreement with Fuji Heavy Industries (parent company of Mitsubishi Motors) to produce subcompact passenger cars.

The company's 80th anniversary was celebrated in 2000*, along with the release of the new Swift. Suzuki acquired 2% of GM Colmotores, for which it had been producing vehicles for several years. The Suzuki Grand Escude--sold in America as the XL7--was unveiled as a larger 4x4 (comparatively, its American-market twin is considered a compact). In 2001, Suzuki began production of the Chevrolet Cruze, a last ditch effort of GM to drum up sales in Japan. For the 30th consecutive year, Suzuki held the largest market share of mini car sales in Japan in 2002.


*This was actually the anniversary of the incorporation in 1920, not the founding.
Suzuki (鈴木) is the second most common family name in Japan (after Sato). There are prominent Suzukis all over modern Japanese history: people like baseball star Ichiro Suzuki, prime ministers Suzuki Kantaro and Suzuki Zenko, and Zen master Shunryu Suzuki. However, you don't see many Suzukis in Japanese history until the late 1800's. There's a reason for this.

The name consists of the characters for "bell" (suzu) and "tree" (ki). After the opening of Japan in the mid-1850's, commoners began to adopt family names at the urging of the government. Of course, most people had no clue what to use for their family name, so they tended to see what their neighbors were doing.

Suzuki became a popular last name because it referred to a staple of Japanese agricultural life. In the olden days of rice farming, the farmer would place a long stick in the middle of the paddy, with a pair of jingle bells on top (a Shinto thing that I don't understand too well, myself). So, many families in the countryside adopted the name to refer to their livelihood (or just because they thought it sounded cool).

As a result, there are now a ton of Suzukis in Japan, coming from a wide array of bloodlines that don't necessarily meet.


Source: Talking about Japan, Kodansha, 2000. ISBN 4770025688

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