CHICAGO – The midsize sedan segment is one of the most crowded and competitive in the U.S. market.

But that won’t stop American Suzuki Motor Corp. from jumping back in, a top official says.

There currently are 18 entrants in the Ward’s Upper Middle car group, plus another five in the Lower Small category. The crowded field prompted Suzuki to exit the sector in 2006, pulling its midsize Verona sedan from the market rather than face-off against newer, better-equipped, high-powered V-6 entries such as the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.

Based on the Daewoo Magnus, the Verona was produced in South Korea by partner GM Daewoo Auto and Technology Co.

“Verona was not a Suzuki-built product, (and) it didn’t necessarily represent our brand as well as we’d like,” Gene Brown, American Suzuki’s vice president-marketing, says in an interview at the Chicago auto show.

“If we do move into a larger sedan category again, as we are looking at, we would do it with our own product,” he says.

Brown says in order to mix it up with such formidable competitors as the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion, “clearly you have to stand out in some way.”

That means Suzuki’s entry may be a bit smaller.

“Midsize takes many forms,” he says, hinting any new model truly will be a “midsize” vehicle, not the size of the new Accord, classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a large car.

“Average midsize is right on the cusp of fullsize,” he says. “That’s probably a larger vehicle than Suzuki needs, but we think something larger than (the C-segment) SX4 is probably appropriate in our lineup.”

Brown says buyers can count on a production version of a recent Suzuki concept, although he doesn’t identify which one. Reports suggest the Kizashi midsize concept unveiled at last year’s Frankfurt auto show will come to the U.S. to fill the slot vacated by the Verona.

A future D-segment sedan would provide something between a baby step and quantum leap for Suzuki’s brand image, he says, noting the new model wouldn’t aim as high as Hyundai Motor America’s upcoming Genesis sedan.

“I think Hyundai is trying to move up several notches in one fell swoop,” Brown says. “That’s not our intent. We understand what our strengths are and we want to expand, but only one (gradual) step at a time.”

A new midsize sedan would join other Suzuki models due in the U.S. in the coming years.

The auto maker has promised a hybrid-electric vehicle early next decade. In a 2006 interview with Ward’s, an American Suzuki official said a midsize sedan would be a good candidate for such an application.

But Brown refuses to say much about the upcoming HEV, specifically whether it will be a variant of another model or a dedicated hybrid.

The HEV’s timing coincides roughly with the planned U.S. debut of the Swift B-car.

“When we launched the SX4 Sport (cross/utility vehicle), we indicated there were three new vehicles, in three new categories where we don’t currently compete, coming out over the following four years,” he says, adding the Swift and Suzuki’s new Equator compact pickup truck are two of the three.

New models will help Suzuki grow in the U.S., although the auto maker appears to be setting its sights a bit lower.

A previously disclosed sales target of 250,000 units annually by 2010 really was meant as a “North American number,” Brown says. He puts the U.S. goal at 180,000-200,000 by the end of 2010, as Suzuki is delaying by several months the launch of one new model, minimizing its impact on 2009 volumes.

Suzuki sales rose 0.9% in the U.S. in 2007 to 101,884 units, Ward’s data show.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com