HENDERSON, Nevada. - American Suzuki Motor Corporation plans to increase the number of US dealers by 25%, according to Automotive News.

It quotes American Suzuki vice president for automotive sales, Gary Anderson, as saying that the company plans to boost its network to 500 dealers in two years, up from the 400 it expects on stream by the end of December.

The company is likely to add dealers in the Midwest states, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and California, Anderson reportedly told press attending the launch of Suzuki's new seven-passenger XL-7 SUV.

Automotive News said that American Suzuki will shift 65,000 vehicles this year, up from 49,888 in 1999. Sales to the end of October reached 52,836 units, with sport-utilities accounting for 66.3%. The Grand Vitara is most popular.

The new 'US-size' XL-7 should boost sales to 81,500 units, about half way to Suzuki's target of 1% of the U.S. market.

"To reach that goal we will be introducing a consistent stream of new products designed to appeal to American tastes and lifestyles," Automotive News quoted Rick Suzuki, president of American Suzuki as saying. Another new vehicle would be launched at the New York auto show next April.

The current Suzuki emphasis in the US is on sport-utilities but Anderson reportedly said that the company will not change its strategy with cars, the 1.3-litre Swift and the 1.6- and 1.8-liter Esteem.

"The car market in this country is still very large, and cars represent about 50% of Suzuki's worldwide sales," Anderson said, according to Automotive News.

"We're not just a truck company or an SUV company. We will continue to market and build our sales volume in cars."

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