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GALLERY: Suzuki Alto Japan

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The first generation (SS30V/40V), introduced in May 1979, was a three-door cargo version of the Fronte passenger car, equipped with a folding rear seat. Front suspension comprised coils struts, with leaf springs at the back. The steering was of the recirculating ball type, and four-wheel drums were used. On introduction, the Alto received the T5B two-stroke 539 cc (32. 9 cu in) (SS30) three-cylinder engine, producing 28 PS (21 kW) at 5500 rpm. The Alto was a "micro sensation" when introduced, largely due to its rock bottom price of ¥470,000 (circa $1,900 in 1979, at a time when the cheapest Ford Pinto cost $4,999 in the US). This low price was made possible by a number of Japanese special concessions for commercial vehicles: most notably, the engine did not require twin catalysts. Two less doors provided another saving, as did the exemption from commodity tax. The Alto's success changed the kei-car market, and other producers such as Subaru (with the "Family Rex") quickly followed suit with cut-price "commercial" vehicles that were really intended for private use. The Alto helped Suzuki move into seventh place in Japanese production for cars and trucks. In the last full year of production for this generation, it was still by far the best selling Kei car, with the Alto outselling the Fronte at a rate of about five to two.

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