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Hyundai Sonata and i40 strategy under review

Two many: The Sonata (left) will continue to be sold alongside the i40 in Australia for a while yet.

Two medium models may be off future Hyundai product menu

Hyundai logo5 May 2017

HYUNDAI Motor Company (HMC) is considering whether it can continue with two medium-sized sedans in its range, with the newer US-focused Sonata taking precedence over the ageing European-developed i40 that continues without a replacement in sight.

Speaking at the national media launch of the new i30 in southern New South Wales, Hyundai Motor Europe (HME) chief designer Thomas Burkle admitted that the medium class – or what is known as the D-segment overseas – is tougher than ever, especially in the face of a global SUV boom.

“The D-segment was always difficult,” Mr Burkle told GoAuto.

“There will always be customers in the D-segment I’m sure … but the market is changing. Society is changing and we have to be synchronised as a society.”

He explained that while volume has contracted in the medium class – to such a degree, he opined, that “you can see the luxury brands, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, how much they move to the compact segments” – different market requirements between the US and Europe make it a challenge to produce only a single model.

“We have to look to the future for the next-generation of D-segment car,” Mr Burkle stated.

“The market in America is quite different from Europe. For example, Sonata is still a price-sensitive product in America and in Europe you have more of the station wagons in the D-segment. I think the i40 was an attempt to go into the D-segment with a station wagon (and) it is still a statement this car.

“What exactly fits to each market, and if we can afford to have two models or not, this will be answered also (and) if we can fill with one car the different market demands.”

Asked whether the SUV boom meant there was a chance Hyundai could end up not replacing the i40, which is a slow seller in Europe, and focus on the Sonata, which sells well in the US, Mr Burkle replied: “I think we are one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world and we need a whole line-up.

“We cannot just ignore certain cars,” he insisted.

“I think when you look at other companies they chopped the D-segment but it was not successful in the end, you have to have the bandwidth to offer it to the customer.”

As to why the seven-year-old i40 has no replacement in sight, Mr Burkle offered: “Lately we did the facelift of the i40, that was quite a big one and we changed even the headlamps and the whole front so this was quite an investment and of course we are looking at the return on the investment.

“We cannot change all the time, and a quality product needs time to develop like a good wine,” he said.

“We don’t just want to throw things into the market, we are serious, we have to trust our products. This takes long development times, so we cannot shoot in all directions.”

The facelifted Hyundai Sonata, which gains an eight-speed automatic transmission teamed with its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, arrives in Australia mid-year. But this was not the time to drop the i40 from the range, Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) chief operating officer Scott Grant argued.

“As long as i40 continues in production it will work, it’s safe for the time being,” Mr Grant told GoAuto.

Recently appointed HMCA chief executive officer JW Lee admitted, however, that the dual strategy of Euro i40 and US Sonata was at least under discussion.

“Yes so we need to have a look into this matter more closely and very much carefully,” Mr Lee said.

“Which values are really needed for our customers, and which offer is better for our customers.”

In 2016 the Sonata procured 1676 sales versus the i40’s 978 units. However, in the first four months of 2017, according to VFACTS April 2017 figures, the positions were reversed, with the latter model’s sales tally (261) surged slightly ahead of the former (256).

Individually, both trail South Korean rival the Kia Optima (300). However, even when combined, the likes of the Skoda Octavia (598) and Subaru Liberty (782) have leapt ahead of the Hyundai duo, which also substantially trail the Toyota Camry (6274), Mazda6 (1190) and a highly improved Ford Mondeo (1146).

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