The new Hyundai Sonata sedan launching this week will be sold concurrently with the existing i40, but the company is confident the pair can succeed side-by-side despite continued contraction in the mid-sized vehicle market.
Hyundai offers two models in other segments in the form of the Accent/i20 and Elantra/i30, but this strategy better mirrors Honda's approach with the Accord and now-axed Accord Euro.
The Sonata will come with two petrol engines in sedan form (see full Sonata specifications here), while the i40 will target those buyers looking for a wagon, with both a petrol and most pertinently a diesel offering, something only it offers. As we know, an updated i40 arrives within months.
This plan replicates what it briefly offered with the Sonata’s predecessor, called the i45 here, which sold alongside the i40 before being dropped in 2013.
Hyundai Motor Company Australia product planning senior manager Andrew Tuitahi is under no illusions of just how combative the medium segment is. The market in which the Sonata will compete held steady in January, but declined 15 per cent over the course of 2014.
“It is going to be a tough segment for Hyundai to crack,” Tuitahi said. “At the moment it is basically the locally manufactured Camry and everyone else fighting for the remaining sales.”
Camry claims nearly 45 percent of all sales thanks in part to its big fleet focus, with the decline in the segment linked mainly to the increasingly common buyer switch to SUVs.
Aside from Camry, there are ten other models fighting for the remaining buyers. The Mazda 6 is the second top-seller here (though in the premium space the Mercedes-Benz C-Class outsells it regularly). In January, the (just updated) Mazda managed 15 per cent share to the i40’s 5 per cent.
“Having both Sonata and i40 allows us to deliver the most comprehensive offering possible,” Tuitahi said. “We consider both vehicles to be critical to appeal to the hearts and minds of Australian buyers.”
Hyundai Australia CEO Charlie Kim isn’t expecting the new car market in Australia to accelerate though.
“In Australia, we expect the new car market to stay on a flat line with very little growth in 2015,” Kim said. “[But] we think the Sonata is an outstanding product and a big improvement over the last model.”
Thanks to it’s ‘fluidic design V2.0’, Hyundai is aiming for the Sonata to continue the brand’s recent climb up the more premium ladder, something it embarked on with the recently launched Genesis.
“We want to offer modern premium vehicles in every segment,” said Hyundai director of marketing Oliver Mann. “Clearly we want Sonata sales to grow and for our share of the segment to increase.
“We aren’t specific on our predicted sales at this point. We want to consolidate a good strong foothold in the medium segment though with Sonata and i40.”
Tuitahi agreed that style is crucial.
“Our design language has matured,” he said. “It has evolved from the statement of a rival to the confident statement of our more premium aspirations.”
Tuitahi was also keen to emphasise the important part that local tuning plays in succeeding domestically. “It’s vital to the success of all our vehicles in Australia, and that’s why every Hyundai is tuned to suit our local conditions,” he said.
Hyundai told CarAdvice that in line with the Korean company’s yearly upgrade cycle, the Sonata will be enhanced before the end of 2015.
“Advanced Collision Warning will be part of an option pack added to Sonata in the fourth quarter of 2015,” said public relations general manager Bill Thomas. “It will be part of an option pack and it wasn’t available to us for the first Sonatas to make their way into the country.”