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Hyundai revises Sonata sales, expects to sell fewer sedans

Models pose next to the South Korean Hyundai

Models pose next to the South Korean Hyundai Motor Company's all-new 'Sonata' model at a presentation event in Seoul, South Korea, 24 March 2014. Credit: EPA / YONHAP

SEOUL - Hyundai forecast sales of its revamped Sonata midsize sedans that missed analyst estimates, as South Korea’s largest automaker seeks to regain U.S. market share from Toyota and Honda.

The carmaker plans to sell 228,000 Sonatas - 63,000 in Korea and the rest overseas - this year, the Seoul-based company said in a statement Monday. The sales target compares with the 245,000 units average of three analysts’ estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.

The introduction of the new Sonata comes after a year of record recalls, a worsening currency-exchange rate and the company’s first annual profit drop in five years. Hyundai is betting on the Sonata to be another hit product like its predecessor introduced in 2009, which helped the company to gain more market share than any major automaker for the last half decade, and boosted sales in the U.S. and China.

"Hyundai’s performance this year will hinge on how well the new Sonata performs in the U.S. and other key markets," said Song Sun Jae, an analyst at Hana Daetoo Securities.

Global deliveries of the Sonata fell to 476,103 units last year after peaking at 523,320 in 2011, as competitors introduced fresher offerings. Toyota redesigned the Camry in 2011 and the latest generation of Ford’s Fusion was unveiled in 2012.

Since it was first introduced in 1985, the Sonata has sold more than 6.8 million units worldwide and was Hyundai’s second best-selling model behind the Elantra in the U.S. last year.

Annual sales of the model almost doubled in the U.S. by 2012 following the revamp, according to company data.

For Hyundai, the Sonata will be the most important new model for the company this year as its bestselling Elantra, winner of 2012 North American Car of the Year, isn’t due for a major change until next year.

The overhaul comes as Chairman Chung Mong Koo, head of both Hyundai and Kia, is forecasting the weakest sales growth in eight years for 2014 as competition intensifies and the stronger won hampers exports.

The car, which comes in variants with 2.0-liter and 2.4- liter gasoline engines and a six-speed automatic transmission, can travel 12.1 kilometers per liter (28.5 miles per gallon), 0.2 km more than the previous model, according to the statement.

Hyundai in December named Dave Zuchowski to replace U.S. CEO John Krafcik, who had led the U.S. unit for five years, after market share there slipped. Hyundai’s U.S. sales rose 2.5 percent last year, a third of the industry average growth pace,
 according to data from the company.

Hyundai and Kia agreed in December to spend as much as $395 million to settle lawsuits related to claims that they overstated the fuel-economy ratings of their vehicles.

Competition will be intense for the new Sonata, which will come up against offerings from traditional leaders, Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord to the Ford Fusion.

To appeal to customers, Hyundai said it seeks to offer a "sense of premium quality in every detail" in the new Sonata, which will feature a hexagonal grille, longer wheelbase and more ergonomic cushion design to improve seat comfort.

The company plans to sell 338,000 of the new Sonata in regions excluding China in 2015, and 120,000 units in China, Kwak Jin, executive vice president at Hyundai, told reporters Monday, without elaborating.

Pre-orders for the car, which will start from 22.55 million won ($20,900), opened on March 5 in South Korea. The company has received about 15,000 orders so far, Hwang Chung Yul, vice president at Hyundai, said Monday. The company didn’t provide overseas prices.

The automaker spent 450 billion won over three years developing the latest Sonata.

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