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Hyundai's Sonata to size up rental sector

Fleet street: Hyundai's Sonata, due in Australia next year, should appeal to fleet buyers and the rental market, according to the company's local chief.

Mid-size Hyundai Sonata returns next year with company car buyers in mind

Hyundai logo30 Jun 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in SOUTH KOREA

HYUNDAI hopes the Sonata will establish itself as a strong fleet and rental car option when the nameplate returns to Australia sometime in the first half of next year after a five-year hiatus.

While it will not be the car’s top priority, Hyundai Motor Company Australia’s chief operating officer, John Elsworth, said that the all-new, seventh-generation Sonata will be well placed to meet fleet buyers’ needs.

He also expects that Toyota will not market the Camry as aggressively as a fleet vehicle once local production ceases by the end of 2017, opening up new opportunities for the South Korean-built sedan.

Furthermore, it seems increasingly likely that the smaller, European-developed i40 range will remain as Hyundai’s more upmarket alternative to the American-focussed Sonata, targeting user-chooser and private buyers – particularly as it will continue to offer wagon and diesel variants.

“Well, (the fleet market) is very difficult. But Toyota has got a different focus from us,” Mr Elsworth told the Australian media at the Genesis first drive event in South Korea last week.

“The are still selling the locally produced car and have to push for volume so they are very fleet orientated with Camry. It won’t be our primary focus. But will we still sell fleet cars? Yes.”

Mr Elsworth went on to single out the rental car business as being especially beneficial for Hyundai as it has often been the first contact future customers have with the brand.

“We will do some rental cars,” he said.

“From our point of view rental fleets are quite important. They are like limousine (hire) cars… very well maintained. Avis, Thrifty and others maintain their cars really well. So when you step into one of their cars from the airport, they’re usually in really good nick.

“We find – and this is genuine feedback from customers – that they would never have experienced a Hyundai but for the fact that they rented one. So we chase the business.

“We’re not over-represented in rentals, but we do really go after it because it is a strategic way for buyers to try the cars. And it’s all models – from i20s and Elantras – and there will be some Sonatas there.”

Meanwhile, exactly where the Sonata will be priced in relation to the i40 is yet to be worked out.

“It is still a work in progress,” he said.

A facelifted i40 range is expected to make an appearance before the end of this year, bringing driver assistance and media connectivity updates as well as revised front and rear bodywork.

First launched in 1989, the Sonata was Hyundai’s longest running nameplate in Australia when the company decided to rechristen the sixth-generation version ‘i45’ in 2010.

Officially the latter was discontinued in January 2013 “for supply issues”, and was replaced as Hyundai’s medium segment contender by the i40.

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