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Hyundai plans hot wheels

2006-07-24 06:45

Poornima Gupta and Jui Chakravorty

John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America vice president for product development and strategic planning, told Reuters in an interview that the company hopes to have details next year about how the model would look.

"The idea is a (performance) car that speaks more directly to the enthusiast buyer," Krafcik said.

He said the Korean carmaker was considering several options for a "halo car," including a model based on its Tiburon sporty coupe or a sedan.

"The aim will be to build the brand, to make this an aspirational purchase," he said. "You would get more car for about the same price as competitors."

Carmakers often design a special vehicle, called a halo car, to attract customers to their showrooms, where they see the full range of vehicles being offered.

Krafcik also said that Hyundai has been looking into the lucrative pickup truck segment, currently dominated by US carmakers.

"We need to be a full-line manufacturer and for that we have to have a pickup," Krafcik said. "But there are all kinds of warning signs that say you have to be extremely careful."

"We would love to have one," he said. "We don't have a special plan, but we have been studying the market."

He said the carmaker was still debating whether the pickup truck should be a traditional full-size model like Ford or a compact model.

Rapid growth

Hyundai has seen rapid growth in the US market. It now sells more cars than Volkswagen, Mazda and Subaru in the United States.

In 2005, Hyundai's US sales rose 9% to 455 012 units, giving it a market share of 2.7%. So far this year, U.S. sales are up 4.3%.

Hyundai has said that it expects US sales to rise more than 10% this year to over 500 000 vehicles, in an overall market that is expected to shrink slightly.

"We are still on track," Krafcik said, referring to the sales target.

Along with sales growth, Hyundai has also dramatically raised its profile in quality.

The brand, which was dogged by quality problems in 1980s and until recently a target of jokes about broken-down parts, was the top-ranked mass-market auto brand in the influential JD Power and Associates Initial Quality Study this year.

Toyota, one of the world's most successful carmakers, has said it is worried about the growth of Hyundai in the Unites States.

One of Hyundai's newest vehicles, the redesigned Santa Fe launched in July, is competing with two of Toyota's SUVs - the new RAV4 and the Highlander, Krafcik said.

He expects to sell about 90 000 of the 2007 Santa Fe mid-size SUV in its first full year of sales.

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