American Suzuki Motor Corp. is counting on a new bigger sport/utility vehicle (SUV) to help add a spark to its U.S. sales resurgence.

The SUV, which will be shown this week in Detroit, is the largest ever for the Japanese importer. Although based on the Grand Vitara, the XL6 concept is closer in size to a Nissan Pathfinder and has more interior space (it can seat six with an optional third-row seat). Under the hood will be an engine larger than the Grand Vitara's 2.5L V-6, but Suzuki remains mum on the details.

Gary Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing, says the XL6 concept is close to the production version of the bigger SUV that will be imported into the U.S. from Japan beginning next fall as an '01 model.

Mr. Anderson expects the production version of the XL6 to help grow Suzuki's sales volume and market share. Suzuki, which sold 49,609 units in the U.S. in 1999, remains a long way from its high-water mark of 86,000 units in 1987. That's when it got slammed with a blistering Consumer Reports road test report that branded the Samurai a dangerous vehicle. Suzuki sales volume plummeted from 6,000-7,000 vehicles per month to just over 1,000. The stigma still has not altogether vanished.

Mr. Anderson says Suzuki hopes to display the same kind of resiliency as Audi did in climbing back from the abyss after adverse publicity wrecked its sales. He forecasts sales of 65,000 units in 2000 and sees Suzuki surpassing its old record in two or three years. Mr. Anderson sees the small SUV segment topping 400,000 units in 2000 and going to 600,000 in '01. Suzuki's goal is to get 6%-7% of the market.