NEW YORK - American Suzuki Motor Corp. wants to roughly triple its U.S. sales in the nearly two years until 2000.
And Chevrolet wants to establish its small sport-utilities as genuine off-roaders, compared to what Chevrolet claims are 'pretenders' like the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.
Suzuki and Chevrolet share one model that is central to the plans of both companies. Suzuki's version is called the 1999 Vitara; Chevrolet's is the 1999 Tracker.
The new models debuted at the New York International Automobile Show last week, in both hardtop and convertible form.
But Suzuki hopes its volume model will be the better-equipped Grand Vitara, which has a V-6 and other upgrades.
It is powered by an all-new 24-valve, four-cam, 2.5-liter V-6 engine that generates about 155 horsepower at 6,500 rpm.
To be imported from Japan, the Grand Vitara goes on sale here in August.
The plainer Vitara and the Tracker will both be built at the CAMI Automotive Inc. joint venture plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. Prices of the two models, which go on sale in late 1998 or early 1999, have not been announced.
The two are virtually identical except for the badge on the grille and minor interior differences.
Suzuki is a minor player in the U.S. market, but it had far and away the glitziest press conference at the New York show, an over-the-top presentation with flashing lights, dancers, rock music, lasers, carbon-dioxide 'fog,' and deafening pyrotechnics, all of which finally revealed the Grand Vitara.
The plain-Jane Vitara, the one that is shared with Chevrolet, was barely mentioned.
Gary Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing for American Suzuki, said the Grand Vitara will be the only subcompact sport-utility with a V-6.
Last year, Suzuki sold only 29,283 vehicles in the United States, down 20.2 percent.
'We have not taken an aggressive stance vs. our competitors,' Anderson said, 'and you'll see that change.'