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SEOUL (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) will in March unveil the first major makeover of its top-selling Tucson sports utility vehicle in six years in a bid to revive growth in key markets like Europe and the United States where SUV sales are now strong.
The debut follows what analysts say was a sluggish start last year for the South Korean automaker's flagship Sonata sedan in the U.S. and Korean markets. Hyundai, which with affiliate Kia Motors is the world's fifth largest automaker, is also facing stiff competition from Japanese firms as the yen weakens.
Last year, Hyundai lost market share in both Europe and the United States. Analysts said the company needs to offer customers more options in the SUV segment, which has become especially popular as oil prices plunged.
"The new model should help lift Hyundai sales, but market conditions are tough now. Differentiating the Tucson from the rest of the pack will be challenging," said Ryu Yen-wha, an analyst at IM Investment & Securities.
Hyundai's U.S. sales inched up 1 percent in January from a year earlier, lagging the market's 14 percent gain, which was fueled by sales of SUVs and trucks. Hyundai is optimistic about the prospects of the relaunched Tucson, which is expected to ride the global SUV boom, a spokesman said.
Tucson, a compact SUV, is Hyundai's top selling vehicle in western Europe and is also one of its biggest sellers in China, the United States and South Korea, its top three markets.
On Tuesday, Hyundai unveiled a teaser video in which chief designer Peter Schreyer introduced a sketch of the new model ahead of its March 3rd debut at the Geneva auto show.
Hyundai's growth prospects have been clouded by declines in the rouble, which cuts its earnings from major market Russia, and the weaker yen. These concerns have fueled investor anger triggered by the company's purchase of a $10 billion Seoul property last year for three times its appraised price.
Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Tony Munroe and Miral Fahmy