It’s June 2015. Suzuki has just achieved a significant milestone. The diesel Celerio has been launched with the company’s first (and so far only) diesel powerplant developed fully in-house. Until now, Suzuki has always relied on other auto makers for its diesel engine requirements in India and abroad. So Suzuki’s 800cc twin-cylinder engine has a lot riding on its little shoulders. It’s the company’s first step towards diesel self reliance, and this engine will power other Suzuki cars, a small commercial vehicle, and will also form the basis for a larger capacity four-cylinder unit.
Fast forward to 2017 and things haven’t gone entirely to plan. The engine did find its way into Maruti’s small commercial vehicle, the Super Carry. But less than two years after its launch, the Celerio diesel faced the axe. The little diesel hatch struggled to find buyers and the last calendar year saw an average sale of only 418 units a month; a far cry from its petrol counterpart’s monthly average of 7,122 units. The problem wasn’t the efficiency. No, the engine was extremely frugal and with a claimed mileage of 27.6kpl, it was the country’s most efficient diesel car. In our road tests too it achieved an astonishing 16.7kpl in the city.
The problem was its lack of refinement. To keep its weight low, an all-aluminium construction was chosen, but aluminium does not contain noise very well and to fit the engine into Suzuki’s small cars, a two-cylinder setup was used, and those are inherently unbalanced. Suzuki did take counter measures to improve refinement – by using a balancer shaft and lowering the compression ratio – but they weren’t effective. The Celerio always sounded like the diesel three-wheelers that ferry goods around and everywhere it went, it got very surprised glances.
Another problem for the diesel engine was its lack of performance; the lower compression ratio meant a low power output of 48hp. Its 0-100kph sprint was more of a trot at a lethargic 22.66sec. For private car buyers, for whom the Celerio was best suited, the stellar mileage could not compensate for the abysmal refinement and low performance. As a result, the diesel engine finds place in Suzuki’s commercial pickup today, leaving the car line-up with only Fiat-sourced units. These are capable engines, but their age is beginning to show now and Suzuki’s rivals like Hyundai have leaped ahead in refinement, efficiency and engine response too.
With hybrids and electrics on the horizon, diesel isn’t headed into our environmentally friendly future, and so, the current situation is a bit of a conundrum for the Japanese carmaker. Should Suzuki bother with stepping up the pace on its in-house diesel programme or ride out for some time with the current units and look for a fresh line from Fiat or even its new partner, Toyota. Trouble is small diesels aren’t Toyota’s thing. Suzuki’s next diesel move will be an interesting one to watch.