Hyundai Motor goes conservative with redesigned Sonata, Genesis

Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:15pm EDT
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By Hyunjoo Jin

SEOUL (Reuters) - Optimism over Hyundai Motor Co's (005380.KS: Quote) first major makeover of its key models in about five years may fizzle as some industry insiders question whether the redesigns are too conservative for international tastes.

Hyundai is facing fierce competition in its home market of South Korea. Free trade deals opened the door for U.S., Japanese and European rivals, who are chipping away at its share in a market where it is accustomed to dominating.

To better compete, the company plans to launch a new, significantly redesigned version of its Genesis large car as early as next month, and a revamped Sonata mid-sized sedan early next year, although neither is likely to carry a new engine.

Hyundai is expected to tone down Sonata's bold lines and curves in a bid to appeal to a broader audience and boost sagging volume growth, particularly at home. But that could backfire in other vital markets such as the United States, where its flashier style is popular and has helped Hyundai establish a credible presence over the past few years.

"The two new models are the first to reflect Hyundai's more moderated version of its design language, and are key to energizing its growth," said Sang Alexander Koo, a professor and former designer with Hyundai's affiliate Kia Motors Corp (000270.KS: Quote).

"While the new Sonata will help embrace conservative consumers, it will not have as much impact as the current model did... The new Sonata could draw as much a divisive view as the current model. Some will say the change is weak and others may like it because it's more moderate," Koo said.

Hyundai spokesman Brian Sir said the company was "confident that our Fluidic Sculpture design language will continue to be highly successful". Fluidic Sculpture is a phrase Hyundai often uses to describe its style.

Expectations are already running high that the overhaul of an ageing lineup will help Hyundai raise prices and bounce back from what is likely to be its first earnings decline since 2008 this year. Hyundai shares are trading near a record high after jumping 18 percent over the past three months, outperforming Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote), Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) and General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote).   Continued...

The logo of Hyundai Motor is seen on a car displayed at a Hyundai dealership in Seoul July 26, 2012. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji