Hyundai revamps flagship sedan to boost brand

Hyundai revamps flagship sedan to boost brand

Seoul: Hyundai Motor Co on Thursday launched a new model of its flagship mid-sized sedan the world’s no. 5 automaker hopes will help it grab more of the higher end car market.

The revamped Sonata, which will include a hybrid version, launched the same week recently appointed vice chairman Chung Eui-sun, the 38-year-old son of Hyundai Motor Group chairman Chung Mong-koo, said the car maker wanted to be the industry’s “eco leader".

“The company has been expanding its global market share with small cars and lower prices. But if it wants to sell higher-end models, it needs to raise its brand image further," said Song Sang-hoon, an auto analyst at Kyobo Securities.

Hyundai, with it affiliate Kia Motors Corp, has seen higher sales lifted by a weaker won and growing appetite for its fuel-economy small cars while competitors, including Toyota Motor Corp, have seen demand for their vehicles hit by the global economic slowdown.

“Our declared goal is bold. It’s to be the industry’s eco-leader," Chung Eui-sun, who moved to Hyundai a month ago after what many analysts say was a successful stint at Kia, said at this week’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Hyundai only brought out its first hybrid, the LPG-electric powered Elantra LPI. Toyota launched the Prius in 1997.

It plans to unveil the first gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Sonata in the second half of the next year.

“(Hyundai) should keep bolstering its brand images and narrow technology gaps with competitors," said Mihael Sohn, an analyst at Woori Investment & Securities.

The Federation of Korean Industries, a business lobby group, estimates South Korea’s eco-friendly cars are technologically three to four years behind key competitors.


Industry analysts credit Chung junior, who was a Kia president before moving to Hyundai, with helping the affiliate raise its game by emphasizing design.

In 2006, he brought in Peter Schreyer, the former head designer at Volkswagen and who designed the successful Soul small car.

But analysts said his arrival at Hyundai is unlikely to displace his dominant father.

“He does not seem to be ready yet as I don’t think he has made a major decision yet. His father has been ruling everything in the group and he still will," said an analyst at one local brokerage, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.