Suzuki to Develop Self-Driving Micro Cars in $50M Partnership

The deal with TIER IV follows two other key agreements as Suzuki bids to develop its portfolio of automated mobility solutions

Graham Hope

June 18, 2024

2 Min Read
The Hustler, one of Suzuki's kei micro cars.

Japanese automaker Suzuki is teaming with automated driving tech start-up TIER IV to develop self-driving micro cars.

The car and motorcycle manufacturer, based in Hamamatsu in Shizuoka prefecture, said it had entered into a “capital and business alliance” with the Nagoya start-up to accelerate the commercialization of autonomous tech.

Local media in Japan have reported that Suzuki has committed to an investment of approximately 8 billion yen in TIER IV, which equates to $50 million.

The pair are interested in producing autonomous versions of kei cars, the tiny machines that have such a big following in the Japanese market.

Kei cars must adhere to strict rules on their dimensions – they can be no longer than 11 feet, no taller than 6.5 feet and no wider than 4.8 feet – plus are also restricted in engine capacity. Maximum engine size is 660cc.

Owners benefit from lower prices, taxes and insurance rates, and traditionally they have made up nearly 40% of new car sales in the country.

Suzuki has always been a big player in this arena and in 2023 was the top-selling brand for kei cars with four models among the 10 best sellers – the Spacia (122,275 sales); Hustler (82,720); Wagon R (72,235) and Alto (67,719).

Now it is looking to take the kei car into a new era via its partnership with TIER IV. Initially, it is understood that the start-up will work on developing an automated prototype based on a Suzuki kei car that is already on the market. In turn, the automaker will use insights gained from this exercise to feed into its next generation of vehicles.

Related:Suzuki to Develop Autonomous Electric Vehicle Platform

To develop its tech, TIER IV is using Autoware, open-source software that was developed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Nagoya University and others.

TIER IV says this approach allows it to work with a global network of partners, providing scalable software platforms and a range of solutions.

While there is obvious appeal in developing automated tech for micro cars that spend a lot of time in congested Japanese cities, another big motivation for the project is to provide mobility for those living in isolated rural regions, where the kei cars’ diminutive size is ideal for narrow roads.

The deal with TIER IV follows a couple of other key agreements as Suzuki bids to develop its portfolio of automated mobility solutions. 

In April last year it announced a partnership with Australia’s Applied EV to develop an autonomous EV platform, and just a matter of weeks ago it confirmed it was investing in California’s Glydways, which develops autonomous Personal Rapid Transit vehicles that travel in dedicated lanes.


About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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