I try to tell the story of the Suzuki
Motor Company on these pages, as accurate and correct as I know
it. There are several stories of the history of Suzuki on the
Internet, books and magazines. Unfortunately most the stories
contain sevear errors. I try to do a better job but cannot swear
that the result is 100% accurate or true. If you find any errors
or have something to add, please contact
The Suzuki Motor Company was founded by Michio Suzuki, a son
to a Japanese cotton farmer. He was born in Hamamatsu, a small
town 200 km from Tokyo, in 1887. As Michio grew up he became
a carpenter and an enterprising young man. In 1909, at the age
of 22, he constructed a pedal-driven wooden loom, and started
to sell his product. Suzuki Loom Works was founded. The business
went well, the order stock was growing and Michio Suzuki further
developed his machine for the silk industry. New, much more
sophisticated machineries were developed and the business was
Eleven years later, in 1920, Michio Suzuki decided to introduce
his business to the stock exchange. The days of a small family
business were long gone; Michio Suzuki needed the capital to
be able to expand the business to meet the demands of the growing
market. The founding of Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company (Suzuki
Jidosha Kogyo) in March of 1920 is regarded as the start of
the Suzuki Motor Company as we know it today. The company celebrated
its 80-year anniversary in 2000.
Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company got the capital needed for
the investments and the company was now growing fast. Already
in 1922 the Suzuki Jidosha Kogyo was one of the largest loom
manufacturers in Japan.
By that time, Japan was not the large industrial power that
it is known today. The most important export items were fabrics
and cloths. In 1926 the new-established Suzuki Loom Manufacturing
Company started to export looms to the Southeast Asia and India.
But the market was soon to be sated, the high-quality looms
from Suzuki lasted practically forever and the demand for new
looms was getting gradually smaller. Suzuki started to consider
manufacturing other things on the side of the weaving machines.
There were hardly any manufacturers of motorcycles or cars in
Japan before the Second World War. Soichiro Honda was to build
his first cyclemotor in 1947. In Europe and the United States
there had been motorcycle and car industries for decades.
The Otto motor had been patented in Germany in 1876 and the
Einspur, Gottlieb Daimlers first motorcycle prototype
was built in 1885. Robert Bosch introduced a low-tension magneto
the motorcycle before the end of the 19th century and by the
time Michio Suzuki was designing his first loom, European companies
like Zedel (later NSU), Royal Enfield, Puch, Peugeot, Norton
and Husqvarna were already producing motorcycles, as well as
Indian and Harley-Davidson in America. There were already motorcycle
magazines and motorcycle clubs organized reliability trials
in Europe. The first Isle Of Man TT-race was held in 1907, two
years before Michio Suzuki started his loom works.
Theres no question about it, the Japanese were not pioneers
in designing motorcycles. The Japanese manufacturers came into
the business decades after Europeans and in the beginning they
mostly copied the design and the technical solutions of the
European machines. But we all know what happened; a couple of
decades after the Second World War the mighty Japanese manufacturers
dominated the motorcycle markets of the world.
But lets get back to the time before the war. Suzuki Loom
Manufacturing Company is an impressive company but theres
little demand for its products. Suzuki considered going into
the automotive business. 20,000 vehicles were imported to Japan
annually, still not satisfying the growing demand for cheap
commuting vehicles. Michio Suzuki noticed the market gap and
made his first move.
In 1938 Suzuki made its first prototype of a car, based on the
Austin Seven. The Suzuki research team had bought an Austin
from England, dismantled and studied it and a few months later
was able to make a replica of the Brittish 737cc car. Japan
possessed little technical knowledge of how to produce good
cars or motorcycles and imitating the car manufacturers in Europe
seemed to be the way to get started.
But the timing was lousy. Japan was already prepairing for the
war. The project was abandoned and the Suzukis version
of the Austin Seven was never mass produced. That wouldn't have
been that original idea anyhow, Nissan's first automobile was
based on Austin Seven.
After the war followed a period of rebuilding and economic instability.
The manufacturing of weaving looms was renewed but a wave of
strikes at the forties and in the beginning of the fifties and
the post-war chaotic financial structure nearly destroyed the
Suzuki Loom manufacturing Company.
According to a story it was Michio Suzukis son, Shunzo,
who came with the idea of motorizing his bicycle a fall day
when riding home from a fishing trip. Without any specific goal,
only for his own pleasure, Shunzo went to his drawing board
at home and started to design his own cyclemotor. Nevertheless
the story is true or not, manufacturing cyclemotors saved the
company from the edge of a crash.
In November 1951 the engineers of the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing
Company started to design an engine that could be attached to
a bicycle. The idea was not unique, there were actually over
100 other Japanese companies that had came up with the same
idea. Soichiro Honda started his Honda Technical Research Institute
in 1946 with renovating used small engines used by the Japanese
army during the war and mounted them onto bicycles. A year later
Honda started to make their own engines. By the time Suzuki
put his first cyclemotor into production Honda (now renamed
to Honda Motor Company) owned 70% of the commuting market.
Before the 36cc Power Free engine was released, a 30cc prototype,
that was given the name Atom was created by Suzuki.
The Atom was never mass produced.
The high quality of the Suzukis cyclemotor made it to
stand out and made it a big hit in Japan. Many of Shunzo Suzuki's
original ideas were used on the final product.
The engine was a "square" 36 x 36 mm piston-ported
two-stroke mounted within the cycle frame, just above the pedals.
It powered the cycle through the normal pedalling chain and
required special chain-wheels to enable the rider to free-wheel
while the engine was running. The engine could also be pedal-assisted,
or disconnected completely.
The system was so ingenious, the Patent Office of the new democratic
government granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research
into motorcycle engineering.
Unlike most of its competitors, the Power Free did not use army
surplus or proprietary engines and was built entirely by Suzuki.
Suzuki manufactured even the carburettor and flywheel magneto.
The Power Free, launched in late '51, was only on sale for a
few months before it was substantially improved. Just after
the release of the Power Free the Japanese goverment changed
the requirements to be allowed to ride a small motorcycle. No
driver's license were longer needed to ride a bike with an 4-stroke
engine up to 90cc or a 2-stroke engine up to 60cc. Suzuki started
immediatly to develop a new cyclemotor which engine capacity
was increased to 60cc. and a two-speed gear was incorporated.