Hyundai fights imports with smaller, spunkier engine for Sonata

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Hyundai fights imports with smaller, spunkier engine for Sonata


Hyundai Motor will release a new Sonata equipped with a 1.6-liter GDi gasoline engine next month, the smallest engine in the flagship model’s 30-year history.

The change follows the industry trend of smaller, more fuel efficient engines.

Hyundai Motor started accepting orders Monday for the 1.6-liter Sonata with a gasoline engine and the 1.7-liter diesel model.

The automaker planned to launch the 1.6-liter Sonata in August, but sped up its release to beat Kia Motor’s new K5 that will hit dealerships in early July.


“In order to keep our current 41-percent market share against aggressive imported brands, we have to sell at least 8,000 Sonatas per month,” said a Hyundai Motor official who requested anonymity. “Management came to the decision that we needed to introduce the model with a downsized engine - widely accepted by U.S. and Chinese consumers - to the Korean market as early as possible.”

Hyundai Motor has been feeling the squeeze from foreign competitors. The company, along with affiliate Kia Motors, at one time claimed 80 percent of the market, but has seen its share drop to as low as 65 percent in January.

Hyundai hopes the new Sonata draws back buyers with its improved performance. Equipped with a GDi engine 400cc smaller than the existing Sonata’s 2,000cc, the new model can generate 177 horsepower. The current Sonata generates 168.

The new Sonata can hit 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in just 7.8 seconds, smoking the existing model’s 11.9 seconds.

Fuel economy also is improved thanks to the seven-speed, double clutch transmission that Hyundai Motor independently developed. The new Sonata has a fuel economy between 12.7 and 12.8 kilometers per liter (about 30 miles per gallon). This is an improvement from 12.1 kilometers per liter for the existing model.

With the stronger performance, the Korean automaker expecting the new Sonata to attract buyers in their 20s and 30s.

“The new 1.6 turbo model is strategically targeted at younger consumers,” said an official at the automaker’s domestic sales department. “The Sonata has been positioned as a midsize to large sedan over the past 30 years, so there was heated debate up until the last minute about whether this model ought to be introduced to shake up that positioning. ”

Similar changes are also taking place at other automakers in Korea, with small vehicles using engines between 1,500cc and 1,700cc flooding the market.

Kia Motors’ forthcoming K5 will offer seven models, including the existing 2,000cc, a 1,600cc turbo and plug-in hybrid.

Renault Samsung is currently selling its flagship SM5 in two models, including the 1,600cc turbo and 1,500cc diesel.

Imported brands have already been targeting young drivers here with downsized engines, a strong turnaround from the previous strategy of promoting models with engine displacements of 2,000cc or more to attract older, well-heeled consumers.

Volkswagen strengthened its marketing to younger buyers when it rolled out the Passat with a 1,800cc gasoline engine in August 2014. It sold 5,509 units through the end of the year, boosting the Passat’s sales by 11 percent compared to in 2013.

The French automaker Peugeot in November introduced the 508 Eco Turbo with a 1,600cc diesel engine.

According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association (Kaida), 196,359 imports were sold in 2014.

Fifty-five percent, or 107,490 cars, were vehicles with engines smaller than 2,000cc.

“On top of the interest in fuel economy, the trend olf downsizing engine displacement will likely continue as environmental issues like carbon emissions continue to be major concerns,” said Yoon Dae-sung, executive manager at Kaida.

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