VANCOUVER – Suzuki Motor Corp. will introduce both a 5- and 7-passenger version of the next-generation '07 XL-7 midsize cross/utility vehicle slated to bow in October 2006.

The Japanese auto maker showed the vehicle as Concept X at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, stemming from General Motors Corp.'s Theta platform that already has yielded the Saturn Vue, Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent.

Suzuki Concept X

For Suzuki, the new vehicle replaces the aging XL-7 flagship, which started life as a stretched Grand Vitara SUV with body-on-frame construction. It was the first 3-row, 7-passenger vehicle in its segment when it was introduced in 2000, says Koji Yamada, SUV vehicle line executive-Suzuki engineering.

The as-yet-unnamed new vehicle is Suzuki's first true midsize utility vehicle, says Hirotaka Ono, SMC board member-overseas marketing, at a press event here for the new '06 Grand Vitara CUV. He says it is designed for families who enjoy outdoor life.

A name will be announced when the production model bows next January at the Detroit auto show. It still is the subject of great debate, officials say, but Suzuki appears to be leaning toward continuation of the XL-7 name.

The expectation is 80% of sales in the U.S. will be the 7-passenger version, says Tom Carney, sales and marketing director-American Suzuki Motor Corp., competing with the likes of the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

The current XL-7 is made in Iwata, Japan, near Hamamatsu, and the early thinking was that its successor also would be assembled there.

The decision to instead employ GM's Theta platform made it possible for Suzuki to use its only North American manufacturing facility, CAMI International Inc., a joint venture with GM in Ingersoll, Ont., Canada, that builds the 5-passenger Equinox and Torrent.

More than 50% of the parts of the new XL-7 will be common with the GM CUVs. The hard points are the same and the engine is a Suzuki-built version of GM's new global V-6. The 250-hp 3.6L will be built in the Sagara engine plant in Shizhoua, Japan. (See related story: Suzuki Powering Up for Growth)

While the Vue debuted in 2001 with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Suzuki model will not. The Japanese auto maker's CVT technology is limited to small engines, says Yamada, and GM has not offered to share its expertise in mating a CVT with a large engine.

Additionally, GM dropped the problem-plagued CVT early in the life of the Vue and did not offer it on the Equinox or Torrent. There currently are no CVTs in the GM lineup. (See related story: GM Reveals '05 Lineup)

A refurbished car line at CAMI began assembly of the Equinox in 2004, and added the Pontiac Torrent earlier this year, operating on three shifts.

The plant's truck line has been idled since the build-out of the Chevy Tracker/Suzuki Vitara in January 2004. The old equipment will be torn out and replaced for the new XL-7, Ono says.

Initially, CAMI will build 60,000 XL-7s, 50,000 of them earmarked for the U.S., the market for which the vehicle was designed. Small volumes will be targeted for export, Ono says, including Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Both the 2- and 3-row versions can be sold in all markets, he says.

At CAMI, the bulk of the roughly 270,000-unit capacity is earmarked for GM, Ono says. Yamada breaks it down to 160,000 units annually for the Equinox, 20,000 for Torrent and 60,000 for Suzuki, leaving little wiggle room for additional Suzuki products.

Ono says Suzuki will not build additional products at CAMI until after GM introduces its next-generation Theta platform, expected about 2007.

Yamada says when GM updates its Theta platform in 2007, Suzuki will decide whether to continue to use the architecture.