By Tom Kaiser
Brand recognition can tip the scales between a successful product and one few consumers are familiar with. Such is the case with Suzuki’s Eiger, a 400-class utility ATV that has won several enthusiast publication comparison tests but failed to garner the recognition Suzuki hoped for.
For 2008 Suzuki is abandoning the Eiger name, which honors a jagged mountain peak in the Swiss Alps and replacing it with the successful and better-known KingQuad moniker. Suzuki has manufactured the Eiger since 2002.
Along with the new name, the company also increased the displacement of its range-topping KingQuad 700, now the KingQuad 750 AXi, added a special edition package to the year-old KingQuad 450 and updated the LT-R450 sport quad, originally introduced in 2006.
Naming is everything
Glenn Hansen, communications manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp.’s motorcycle and ATV division, said the idea came from dealers who asked the company to update the Eiger’s looks and give the welterweight utility a new name.
“They said don’t do anything except change the name and make it look better, and that’s no joke,” Hansen said. “The dealers said it looked old, and nobody ever got the name Eiger; change that and we’ll keep selling them.”
Aside from new styling and “signature KingQuad headlights,” the company added a new T-shaped seat, a gate-type shift lever, more fuel capacity and new Maxxis tires.
The chassis and engine are carryovers from the Eiger, and it is still available with a five-speed semi-automatic transmission or a CVT, which Hansen says provides customers with more choice at a modest, $150 price difference.
Going forward, all of the company’s utility ATVs will carry the KingQuad name, and at this year’s dealer meeting the company also hinted there are more KingQuad models to come.
Acronyms for All
The new naming also comes with new lettering to boot. Higher up the company’s utility food chain, the larger KingQuads get the AXi acronym, where “A” signifies automatic transmissions, “X” means independent suspension and “I” for fuel injection. Other modifiers include “F” for foot shifter models and “S” for swingarm rear suspension, applicable to the KingQuad 400AS and KingQuad400FS.
Hansen said the 78cc difference between the 400 and 450 KingQuad models is less significant than the two machines’ unique purposes. The 400 is positioned as a utility model, while the 450 has a more recreational bend.
For 2008, the KingQuad 750 AXi has a larger, bored out cylinder that Suzuki says delivers more power and torque throughout the engine’s power curve. It also has an increased rpm limit, up to 7000, for more power in low-traction conditions. To accommodate the extra power, several components around the driveshaft were strengthened.
Rod Lopusnak, ATV operations manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp., said buyers can expect a 5-6 percent horsepower gain in the single-cylinder powerplant. Like the 700, the fuel will be delivered via EFI.
Other than the displacement increase, Lopusnak said the rest of the machine will come back largely unchanged. That means all of the top-line KingQuad’s features, like adjustable, independent front and rear suspension, high-tensile all-steel frame and sealed rear brake.
For future models, Lopusnak promised “more to come in the very near future” from the KingQuad lineup.
Model years 2007 and 2008 will likely be remembered in the annals of sport ATVing as “the good years.” Can-Am, Kawasaki and KTM all joined a game previously monopolized by Honda and Yamaha and joined in 2006 by Suzuki with its LT-R450. Not to be lost in the dust, however, Suzuki updated the LT-R to add power and address its primary criticism — an overly harsh front end.
New ECU programming and reshaped cam profiles increase the LT-R’s engine output at the low and middle range of its power curve. The quad’s harsh front end, particularly on choppy terrain, has been addressed with rubber-mounted handlebars for improved rider comfort and control.
Other improvements include a new Kashima coating from front and rear suspension components, intended to reduce friction and offer smoother performance. Suspension settings were also modified fore and aft with larger rear tires and updated swingarm rigidity balance for better handling and shock absorption.
Hopping on a new trend started by Yamaha and Can-Am, Suzuki also will offer a blacked-out special edition of the LT-R with black wheels, a black frame and black bodywork accented by a red graphics package.
Hansen said Suzuki has built “more than just an advertising campaign” around the LT-R450 with its racing program and says the company will continue to refine the machine as needed.
When asked about any plans to field an open-class sport quad to compete with Yamaha’s top-selling Raptor 700R or Honda’s new 2008 700XX, Hansen says there is nothing immediately on the horizon.
“We certainly look at that recreational category... and study a lot on what people need and what Suzuki can deliver that’s going to be well received,” Hansen said.
He added the company is continuing development of new product and does not feel the market is slowing down “as much as some people say it is.”
Hansen says the motorcycle and ATV markets are slower than they’ve been in years past, but there are opportunities for capturing non-MIC-reported sales at the lower end of the market.
As for a future side-by-side, which is rumored to be in Suzuki’s development pipeline, Hansen says 2009 “could be” the year, but the company is not promising anything or limiting itself to any product type.
“We’re keeping it open,” he said. “We’ve got almost 1,200 dealers, and you get a lot of different opinions.”
Part of the decision, Hansen notes, is whether to release a recreational, utility or do-it-all UTV.
“It’s a fun study,” he said. “Time consuming, but very interesting.”