The Suzuki Swift subcompact has been running around the streets of Europe, Japan, and Canada for some time—but hasn’t been available in the US since the 1990s. The Swift is expected to make a comeback in the next year or so (maybe), and a plug-in hybrid version could follow.
Suzuki said today that its dealers will begin test-driving 60 Swift plug-in hybrids on Japanese roads by this fall. The engine will generate 54 horsepower and the electric motor will produce 74 horsepower. The Swift plug-in hybrid offers an all-electric range of somewhere between 9 and 12 miles. The batteries will be supplied by Sanyo, which provides nickel-metal hydride batteries for Honda and Ford hybrids.
Upon its potential return to the US, the Suzuki Swift—about the size of a Mini Cooper—would join the ranks of thrifty micro-cars such as the Ford Fiesta, FIAT 500, Mazda 2, and Chevrolet Spark. Micro-cars have never been huge sellers in the United States, and will need to aggressively compete on price. As cool as we think a stylish mini-mobile running mostly on electricity would be, the cost of its lithium ion battery pack (even if relatively small) would drive up the cost of the car by at least a few thousand dollars. After 10 years of hybrid development, nobody has produced anything smaller than a gas-electric compact—although there are rumors of a subcompact Toyota Prius in the works, and the all-electric Smart ED is going through testing in North America.
Suzuki displayed a Swift plug-in hybrid concept at the Tokyo Motor Show in October. The Swift PHEV concept paired a 660cc engine to a set of lithium ion batteries that live between the front seats and send energy to a 54 kW motor that powers the front wheels. The micro-car is a pure-play series hybrid mimicking the approach of the Chevy Volt. In other words, the Swift’s small engine acts exclusively as a generator to sustain or recharge the car’s lithium ion batteries, which in turn supply power to an electric motor to drive the wheels.
The battery placement runs down the center of the car. In the concept display version, designers generously provided a window through the center to give a view of the battery pack. Suzuki also gave the Swift concept re-worked headlights and re-styled wheels. The interior features a distinct trim and has lightweight front seats.
Suzuki had previously gained attention by announcing a future hybrid version of the Kizashi sedan. But that model was canceled because it relied on technology provided by GM, which sold its 20 percent stake in Suzuki in 2008.
Suzuki didn’t say if the plug-in Swift was headed into production—but our best guess is, unfortunately, that it’s a long ways off. And if it sees the light of day anytime in the next few years, it would be in Japan or Europe, not the US.