American Suzuki Motor Corp., which specializes in compact vehicles, by 2007 will add more than 60 dealerships and sell 135% more units than it does now, a company executive tells Ward's.

Suzuki currently has about 535 dealers, slightly less than half with exclusive showrooms. “The last 50 or 60 dealers we put in are going to be very critical,” says Tom Carney, American Suzuki sales and marketing director. “That's the tough part, because they have to be in key metro markets.

“It's easy to fill small markets and medium markets. But when it's New York City or Los Angeles, it's got to be someone who can sell 100-200 vehicles a month. Otherwise, it won't work because the real estate is too expensive.”

The brand's No. 1 U.S. store is in Alabama. Owned by Gary Linam, Huntsville Suzuki sells more than 200 units a month.

Carney names Miami, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas as among key cities where Suzuki needs to improve its presence.

In picking new dealers, “we're going to be selective,” he says.

He estimates selling 85,000 units in 2005. That would be an all-time high for the auto maker, besting the previous peak set in 2004 with 73,496 units.

Carney predicts sales will hit 120,000 units in 2006 because of Suzuki's broadening lineup. Suzuki's plan calls for U.S. sales to hit 200,000 units by 2007, mainly by increasing the dealer body and adding five new vehicles, such as the SX4 subcompact car that goes on sale this summer.

“We're a very formidable player,” Carney says. “We're similar to Kia's lineup, to Hyundai's lineup and even Honda's lineup without the Ridgeline, because we don't have a pickup.”

General Motors Corp. owns 20% of Suzuki. “It has been a great investment,” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner tells Ward's.

Carney says Suzuki's challenge is to get on more car buyers' shopping lists. He says many polled consumers associate Suzuki more with motorcycles than cars.

Company marketing initiatives of late include increasing Suzuki's Internet presence, offering $25 gas cards as test-drive incentives and setting up displays at sports tailgate parties.