Hyundai's revamped Sonata yet to rev up key U.S. market

Wed Oct 22, 2014 5:18am EDT
 
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By Hyunjoo Jin

SEOUL (Reuters) - The revamped Sonata sedan was supposed to help Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS: Quote) reverse sluggish sales, but the car described by some critics as a bland substitute for its popular predecessor is off to a slow start in the key U.S. market.

The tepid reception for the new Sonata in Hyundai's biggest market after China spells more bad news for the South Korean automaker which is battling intensifying competition and a strong local currency. Hyundai is expected to post a 9 percent fall in its third-quarter net profit when it releases its quarterly earnings on Thursday.

Industry analysts say the new Sonata, launched in the United States in June, has struggled to stand out on design and value in a crowded field where rival sedans such as Nissan's Altima and Honda's Accord offer more attractive prices or designs.

In contrast, the Sonata's predecessor helped Hyundai expand its U.S. market share after it was launched there in 2010.

"The new Sonata product super-exceeds the previous model in every way, shape, or form. But consumers are very much driven by what the vehicle looks like," said Scott Fink, chief executive of Hyundai of New Port Richey, Florida, which is Hyundai's biggest U.S. dealer.

"You used to be able to pick out the predecessor model anywhere on the road, in a parking lot. Now in some regards, you have to go to the front of the car and look at the logo to make sure: 'Oh! that's my car'," he told Reuters.

A New York Times review this month described the new Sonata's design as "bland" and "boring". Reuters had earlier reported that Hyundai deliberately made the model less bold and more angular than its curvy predecessor to appeal to more conservative tastes in South Korea.

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A visitor walks past a Hyundai Motor logo at a Hyundai dealership in Seoul April 25, 2013.   REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji