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Sonata sells up a storm in Korea

Local hero: Koreans car buyers are lapping up Hyundai's new mid-sizer, the YF Sonata.

Hyundai’s mid-sized ‘YF’ on target for local debut, despite record demand in Korea

Hyundai logo14 Jan 2010

By RON HAMMERTON

A KOREAN-MADE car that has the potential to rev up Australia’s medium-car segment in the same way that the Hyundai i30 and Getz have transformed the bottom end of the market has made a blistering sales start in South Korea.

Hyundai’s YF Sonata – expected to be known by another name when it arrives in Australia in a few months – has smashed sales records by racking up 100,000 orders through showrooms in its home market since its domestic debut in September – a rate that Hyundai says equates to 1000 units a day.

The company says the first 10 months of production are already spoken for.

Despite the Korean demand for the front-drive, four-cylinder YF, Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) says the car is still on target for launch in Australia “in a few months”, with production for Australia “all on track”.

However, Hyundai Australia spokesman Ben Hershman told GoAuto that HMCA was still working with head office on the moniker for the new car.

While Hyundai has been happy to continue the Sonata name in major markets such as South Korea and the US, the Australian outpost would prefer to continue its move to alphanumeric badges in line with its i30 small car and forthcoming i20 light car and ix35 compact SUV which are also due to debut Down Under this year.

1 center imageHowever, that is easier said than done, because the logical i40 badge is expected to be applied to a separate five-door mid-sized model, codenamed VF – primarily designed for Europe – that is also likely to make it to Australia in 2011 to create a twin-pronged mid-sized car attack.

The Sonata badge hardly carries huge cache in Australia. Last year, the Sonata eked out just 943 sales for a tiny 1.6 per cent share of the medium-car segment.

By comparison, Toyota’s segment-leading, locally-made Camry garnered more than 20,000 sales for a 36 per cent share.

The Sonata name could also be associated with a previous Hyundai era, when the Excel, Elantra, S Coupe and Terracan were bywords for cheap motoring.

As Hyundai’s engineering and quality has pushed up-market with dramatic effect on sales, these badges have been left behind.

In Australia last year, Hyundai sales rocketed up 39.2 per cent against a 7.4 per cent general decline, mainly on massive gains by the i30 small car, Getz light car and run-out Tucson compact SUV.

If the all-new YF mid-sized sedan – Hyundai’s sixth-generation Sonata in Korea – can replicate that surge in a segment where Hyundai has been all-but invisible in Australia, the Korean brand is likely to take an extra step up the sales ladder.

The YF has been launched in Korea with a 121kW/198Nm 2.0-litre Theta II four-cylinder petrol engine, mated to Hyundai’s new six-speed automatic transmission, but the American-made version gets a direct-injection 2.4-litre Theta II engine – a more likely candidate to power the Australian vehicle.

Because the yet-to-be-seen VF mid-sizer is aimed primarily at Europe, it will be available with a version of Hyundai’s new R-series turbo-diesel engine, which is available in 2.2-litre guise in the facelifted Santa Fe medium SUV and 2.0-litre form in next year’s Tucson compact SUV successor, the ix35.

Hyundai has confirmed that a hybrid version of its YF Sonata will be offered in the US, but HMCA declines to say if this version will make it to Australia.

The hybrid – to go on sale in the fourth quarter of 2010 in America – is expected to offer a similar plug-in petrol-electric powertrain to Hyundai’s Blue-Will concept car, which can travel 60km on battery power before a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine kicks in for extended travel.

Here, the YF hybrid would compete head-to-head with Toyota’s locally-produced Camry Hybrid.

Hyundai says the YF features its new ‘fluidic sculpture’ design language which will also feature on the ix35 which makes its local debut about July.

HMCA marketing director Oliver Mann said the company could not wait to see how Australian buyers reacted to the YF’s bold design.

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