Could The Suzuki & Garmin Marriage Save Them Both?

April 3, 2012
Garmin's first in-car infotainment system comes to Suzuki vehicles

Garmin's first in-car infotainment system comes to Suzuki vehicles

Garmin has announced an intriguing partnership with Suzuki that will put Garmin infotainment systems in the dashboards of most 2013 Suzuki models. But will that be enough to boost Garmin's prospects for the future -- or those of Suzuki?

All cards on the table: we haven't been too generous in our assessments of either Garmin or Suzuki.

Swiss outfit Garmin -- and its Dutch rival, TomTom --  have been plagued in recent years by automakers like Ford, General Motors, and others who've been developing their own proprietary infotainment systems. When shoppers purchase those pre-installed gadgets in their new cars, aftermarket devices like the ones sold by Garmin become largely irrelevant.

Far worse for Garmin & Co. has been the arrival of smartphones. With so many entertainment and navigation apps available for Android, iPhone, and other operating systems -- many of which are free -- why would anyone shell out for a dashtop device that requires a monthly subscription?

Suzuki hasn't fared much better in our estimation -- at least not in the U.S. The automaker has been hobbled by a quirky design aesthetic that plays well in many parts of the world but doesn't carry much appeal for American consumers.

Suzuki tried to up its game with the Kizashi sedan, and in fairness, it was a very noble effort, But it would be hard for a mainstream automaker to hitch its entire business model to the success of one fairly good car. Frankly, few of us would be surprised if Suzuki weren't preparing to take a long, low bow and make an Isuzu-like exit, stage left.

New developments

But now Garmin and Suzuki have joined forces: later this year, most 2013 Suzuki models will begin rolling onto lots, equipped with Garmin-backed infotainment systems. (Neither Garmin nor Suzuki has yet said which models will be left out of the fun.)

What's most interesting about this announcement is that the equipment Garmin is building for Suzuki is far more than the navigation device we're used seeing perched on dashboards. True, navigation will be a key component, but the system will also include a music player (integrating radio, CD, and anything that connects through an auxiliary port); voice control; back-up camera support; and Bluetooth.

The Garmin system even comes with support for Pandora, although it's not built in: it has to run from a connected smartphone.

And all that arrives with a respectable 6.1" touchscreen display. Not too shabby.

There's no word on pricing for the system yet -- either for the hardware or for the subscription fees -- but we'd expect something comparable to what's on offer from other automakers: free monthly service for a year or two, with a reasonable monthly fee afterward.  We may know a bit more after the Garmin system debuts later this week at the New York Auto Show.

Will it be enough?

This isn't Garmin's first time working with an automaker. However, it's the first time we've seen the company offer such a wide array of features packed into one device. We haven't seen the system in person yet, but based on its description, we're hoping to be mightily impressed. If Garmin can deliver the proverbial goods, and if it can land similar deals with other automakers here and elsewhere, it may stave off the competition from smartphones for a good while longer.

We're less optimistic about Suzuki's future. Yes, it's true: being aligned with a well-known brand like Garmin could be a boon and make customers feel more comfortable buying its products. But unless Suzuki focuses on the bigger picture -- namely its auto lineup -- tossing a nifty infotainment system in the dash won't do much for its long-term survival.

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