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NEW YORK – American Suzuki Motor Corp. expects to sell about 20,000 all-new ’08 SX4 compact sedans annually.

The vehicle, unveiled at the New York International Auto Show here, sports a performance look and feel, reflecting Suzuki’s new product direction and intending to appeal to “life enthusiasts,” says Gene Brown, American Suzuki’s vice president-marketing.

The front-wheel drive car is a companion vehicle to Suzuki’s all-wheel-drive SX4 cross/utility vehicle. Because it is not AWD, the sedan will cost less. Pricing is yet to be announced, but Brown says the range will be $13,000-$18,000 depending on equipment. It goes on sale this fall.

Suzuki has been breaking sales records, registering double-digit percentage growth for three straight years. The Japanese auto maker saw a 23% increase in 2006, with sales breaking the 100,000-unit mark for the first time in American Suzuki’s 22-year history.

The auto maker’s latest strategy calls for spicing up its car lineup while drawing on the excitement of its motorcycle heritage for inspiration – and emotional association.

For the first time, recent high-energy Suzuki car commercials have included references to and images of its motorcycles, showing both car and motorcycle speeding along side by side.

The car-motorcycle ad campaign indicates “the future direction of our cars and our brand image,” says Brown. “We think it will strike a chord with customers who lead active lifestyles and who like style with attitude.”

Within four years, Suzuki will introduce four new vehicles in segments that it doesn’t currently compete in.

Planned for 2010 is Suzuki’s first hybrid-electric vehicle, Brown says.

It will be a version of one of the impending new offerings.

Created by the same Suzuki team that did the redesigned Suzuki Swift subcompact, the SX4 sedan has a wedge-shape stance, arched fenders and standard 17-in. (43.1-cm) alloy wheels. The body features a low, rising waistline and large, triangular-shaped windows.

Accessorized Street Sport and Touring versions of the SX4 sedan are available.

The chassis of the SX4 sedan also evolved from the Suzuki Swift. Fine-tuned in Europe, it emphasizes dynamic performance.

The SXR sedan is built in Japan and has a 2L in-line 4-cyl. 16-valve DOHC engine rated at 143 hp and offers a choice of an automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com