* New Genesis, Sonata key to reversing fortunes in S.Korea, U.S.
* Hyundai looks to sell 10 percent more cars in U.S. next year
* Fuel economy drops, prices rise in S.Korea
By Hyunjoo Jin
SEOUL, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor unveiled a sleek revamped version of its high-end Genesis sedan in South Korea on Tuesday, a key model along with the upcoming Sonata family car, to revive momentum in its key home and U.S. markets.
Hyundai, the world’s fifth-biggest automaker along with Kia Motors, is looking to lift its total U.S. vehicle sales by 10 percent next year on the back of the release of the new Genesis and, more importantly, the Sonata sedan.
The South Korean automaker said the new Genesis would offer improved riding, handling and high-tech features to take on the likes of higher-priced Mercedes and BMW, but the model’s fuel economy dropped.
The new Genesis will arrive in U.S. showrooms in the first half of next year, followed by the Sonata, Hyundai’s second best-selling car in the United States.
Hyundai aims to sell 32,000 new Genesis cars in South Korea and 30,000 in overseas markets next year. The Genesis will be sold in Europe for the first time.
“We will remain as a follower if we fail to make cars that can compete with top-notch models. The Genesis has a big significance for us, and at the same time marks a challenge,” Park Joon-hong, a research fellow at Hyundai’s Research & Development Division, told reporters last week.
Hyundai’s Park said the company has undertaken rigorous quality checks preceding the launch, after a series of recalls and consumer complaints hurt the company’s reputation.
The Genesis, which was first rolled out in 2008 and won the North American “Car of the Year” the next year, is not a high-volume model like the Sonata, but is designed to raise the company’s image.
“A higher brand value has a ripple effect on sales of small and mid-sized cars. If sales of the new Genesis falls short of expectations, it will hurt the brand, and dampen expectations of the new Sonata due next year,” said Lee Hyung-sil, an auto analyst at Shinyoung Securities.
Although it will come with a cheaper price-tag than its European premium rivals, Hyundai has raised the price of the main V-6 3.3-litre model by 2.3 million Korean won to 52.6 million Korean won ($49,500).
The 3.3-litre model gets fuel economy of 9.4 km/litre (22.1 miles per gallon), a slight drop from the current 9.6, and it does not come in more fuel-efficient diesel or hybrid options, models that are gaining in popularity in South Korea. The 3.0, 3.3, 3.8 and 5.0 engines are available depending on the markets.
Y.J. Ahn, a U.S. sales executive, said the company was looking to lift its U.S. vehicle sales by 10 percent next year, adding the figure was not finalised.
Hyundai saw its U.S. sales rise only 2 percent from January to October, lagging the market, as its Japanese and U.S. rivals have launched new models.
Shinyoung’s Lee said Hyundai may miss this year’s U.S. sales target and it may be challenging to achieve a 10 percent sales growth next year given that its U.S. and South Korean factories were running at full capacity.
The Genesis unveiling comes a day before Daimler plans to bring its Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan to South Korea. Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche will make a rare visit to Korea to attend the S-Class event.
South Korea, dominated by Hyundai and Kia, is a small market for imported cars, but foreign sales have soared 21 percent so far this year in a flat market helped by free trade deals. For the S-Class, South Korea is the fourth-biggest market after China, the United States and Germany, although its sales of about 1,000 from January to October trail the top three by a long way.
Peter Schreyer, a former Audi designer who leads design of both Hyundai and Kia, acknowledged it was not easy for the South Korean automakers to go up-market, saying it took 30 years for Audi to become a premium brand from a “boring company”.