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Hyundai Aims to Charm U.S. Drivers with New Sonata

Posted by: Moon Ihlwan on September 18, 2009

Hyundai on Sept. 17 unveiled its new Sonata midsize sedan that will be a key test of its recent campaign to reestablish its image. Departing from the sedate styling of the current Sonata, its successor – a bumper-to-bumper remake – aims to be a head-turner. In my opinion, it is better designed than any other vehicle the Korean carmaker has rolled out to date. It sports a longish nose, a panoramic sunroof and coupe-style design touches.

Hyundai officials claim that it is not just the car’s expressive look that should attract consumers. “The Sonata will set a new standard for world class mid-size sedans with state-of-the-art technology, superior quality, and emotional design,” Chung Euisun, Hyundai’s vice chairman, said at a ceremony unveiling the vehicle. It will play a crucial role in Hyundai’s global strategy, he added.

Indeed, Hyundai has a lot riding on this car. Executives say the next-generation Sonata, to be sold in Korea from this month and in the U.S. within six months, will challenge Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord for the hearts and wallets of drivers, particularly in the U.S. They also say it will help improve its brand image and put to rest the company’s erstwhile reputation as a maker of cheap cars.

Hyundai has been relentlessly waging a marketing blitz to rebuild its image and expand its global presence lately. Hyundai got a major boost to its push to go upscale when its Genesis sedan won its first North American Car of the Year award in January. Few expect Hyundai to sell the Genesis, its first near-luxury vehicle, a lot but the company’s intention is to move many Sonatas from dealerships once the global economy recovers from the current recession and consumers start buying again.

For Hyundai, the new Sonata’s success in America is crucial to make its U.S. business profitable. The current Sonata was the first vehicle built at a $1 billion plant in Montgomery. Ala. but the uninspiring model did little to convince consumers to buy it. While its Alabama plant is capable of making 300,000 vehicles, Hyundai only sold 117,000 Sonatas and 71,000 Santa Fe sport-utility vehicles last year. Auto analysts say Hyundai should sell close to 200,000 Sonatas in the U.S. to make the Alabama operation really profitable.

Hyundai has gone extra miles to charm U.S. drivers with the new Sonata. To appeal to them, the vehicle’s exterior was designed by the company’s studio in California. The Korean version of the car has a two-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The U.S. version will be equipped with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder motor with direct-injection technology to produce some 200 horse power against the Korean version’s 163 hp.

Hyundai’s goal is to sell 450,000 Sonatas per year globally when it enters full production in 2011, the year it will be built in China as well. The targeted volume compares with last year’s 318,000 units and the peak sale of 381,000 in 2006.

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Reader Comments


September 18, 2009 06:47 AM

I've driven several sonatas and almost bought one. My only concerns were the constant clunking from the front ends of each of the sonatas (all were new and all clunked) and the poor resale value. Hopefully this new design will fix the clunking problems and perhaps help with resale.


September 18, 2009 07:47 AM

I like a car from korea because it' s cheaps to buying. if who needs to make some merits try


September 18, 2009 09:47 AM

At least is not Mercedes Benz ugly. I do not think there is an uglier car on the road than the new 300!


September 18, 2009 10:47 AM

Hyundai should be commended as the most improved automaker of this decade. The Sonata has come very far in just two generations, from being a cheap alternative to Camry/Accord to being nearly their equal. I expect Sonata sales will see a healthy increase in the US.


September 18, 2009 10:50 AM

I owned a 2006 Sonata and it never once "Clunked". It was perfect and trouble free for the 3 years I owned it.The main problem was the low resale value.I have now upgraded to a Lexus,but this new Sonata is SO BEAUTIFUL, that I am willing to downgrade??? to the Sonata once again. Why can't the american carmakers design a style such as this? Most american cars are soooo boring,that I would never consider them. Except Cadillac,,but they are too edgy of a style.The new Buick LaCrosse isn't bad, neither is the Corvette.But that's it!

Larry Anderson

September 18, 2009 11:39 AM

Great another piece of import trash with a bow and ribbon on it. I bought a excel 15 years ago the engine threw a rod. Funny thing my friend had the same car his also threw a rod. His dealership replaced the engine and it went out less than a year later. Yes, we did change the oil!!!!!! Should have changed the cars sooner. Moral to the story don't be fooled by the packaging......... Everyone thinks American cars are not that good but, their a hell of a lot better than Korean junk. Japanese cars are really that great either. The Japanese cars tend to design cars for much shorter people.


September 18, 2009 11:55 AM

I bought one sonata in 2007, bought another sonata just few month ago. I bought camry in the past, sonata is definately a better choice for me now, cost less, runs great!

Chuck Sorensen

September 18, 2009 02:00 PM

I own a 2009 Sonata, after having a 2004 Honda and a 2006 Toyota. So far, no problems, 17,000 miles, it is superior to Honda and Toyota


September 18, 2009 03:34 PM

We had an Excel for 2 years and it ran great. Only problem was that it came w/o a stereo. I imagine the newest models are better equipped.


September 18, 2009 03:53 PM

Recently, I reluctantly ended up renting a Hyundai Sonata after having to return a Nissan Altima that I had originally rented. Boy, what a Royal Piece of Krap the Altima was. First, under very low light conditions compounded by black interior, I struggled to locate the damn trunk release button that was hidden at an angle next to the steering wheel. Then, I had to turn the engine on just so I could adjust my external mirrors and roll the windows up/down!! While the engine start button was located at an expected location, the key itself had to be inserted into a slot hidden on the opposite side of the steering wheel on the dash panel. What exactly does the driver gain w/ this layout - risk of injury shifted from right knee to the left knee? Finally, with just under 14K miles on the odometer, the V6 engine turned out to be so unusually noisy and grindy, I had to return the car after driving it for just 1 mile. And what a pleasant surprise it was to move into a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, unpretentious Sonata! All the buttons on the dash panel and elsewhere were laid out quite intuitive and all features worked independently. The engine was very quiet and the ride velvety smooth!!


September 18, 2009 04:45 PM

Awe common this car looks exactly like the Mazda6. Why can't Koreans stop copying everything and come out with their own designs?


September 18, 2009 05:21 PM



September 18, 2009 05:49 PM

In my opinion, if Hyundai want to upgrade from cheap image to the Luxurious brand,first they should chnage their name and logo. It's jus like imitation of Honda.


September 18, 2009 05:50 PM

Just like Genesis, I bet this very new sonata will get North American Car of the Year award for 2010.imho


September 18, 2009 07:03 PM

Still not trust Hyundai reliability... I will wait another 10 years.... Any ways, I just bought a Camry two weeks ago....


September 18, 2009 07:52 PM

Don't be surprise when Hyundai becomes the top 3 automaker in the world within the next 10 or 15 years.
If you people are still ignorant enough to compare current Hyundai's cars from the 80's, you are a dumb idiot and go right ahead and keep wasting your $$$ buying american...
My whole life I've driven ford's (escort xr3, del rey), gm's ( vectra, astra, kadett, opala) and fiat's ( tempra, uno)cars in brazil, and without exagerating, they are just trash cars...
Here in the US, I've bought a 1999 pontiac grand prix gt and not even 6 months later, I had to take back to the service to replace a cable, and worst of all, it wasn't even under the warranty which I had to pay 585.00 back then, and needless to say I got madly furious....


September 18, 2009 08:09 PM

Hey Larry Anderson, have you bought any cars since the Hyundai 15 years ago? Get out much lately?

Maxim Bruno

September 18, 2009 10:38 PM

Larry Anderson should have lived in a cave for the last 15 years.
Hyundais are now on par with Hondas and Toyotas in terms of quality and reliability, lol. A couple of examples, look Consumer Reports and J.D. Power ranking. And have you noticed their market share worldwide as well as in the US?


September 18, 2009 10:59 PM

I have a 2006 Sonata with 65,000 miles and it runs great. It's had no major problems so far. It did have a few minor issues that were corrected under the long warranty period. the drivetrain is warranted to 100,000 miles. I also like the performance of the V6 and all the standard features. The car was 6,000 cheaper than a comparable Camry. It runs real smooth and is quiet and looks great. I don't know why the resale is so low- Hyundai should give some guaranteed value for trade-in and I would buy another!

Sahir Siddiqui

September 19, 2009 12:45 AM

To the guy who complained about a Hyundai Excel 15 years ago.. The Excel was Hyundai's entry level car when they started out - they have come a long way since. Sonata is an excellent choice.


September 19, 2009 09:08 AM

I have a 2002 Sonata and the car is great. I love the stability on the road and the simpleness of the car. I used to be a Hyundai sceptic. I allowed the Honda & Toyota perceptions to sway me but now, I'm seriously considering the Genesis and guess what, I'm all in for the Equus when it lands in the US in 2010/2011. Has anyone seen pictures of that bad boy?


September 19, 2009 10:23 AM

TO: Larry Anderson, American Cars are JUNK, they recently started learning their lesson, your talking about Hyundai 15YEARS AGO...we are living in 2009 get with the program. Hyundai grew from what it was 15 years ago to what it is NOW...WHAT DID YOUR AMERICAN CAR MAKERS DO...OPEN PLANTS OUT SIDE OF THE Country...and labeled it AMERICAN...and in the end had to be BAILED OUT BY THE U.S GOVT. If American cars were better than your phrase "Korean/Japan junk" ...I mean I’ll let u figure that out...


September 19, 2009 10:35 AM

Honda, Toyota, Hyundai are all great choice...I would even get a Ford..ok maybe in a


September 19, 2009 01:26 PM

Rented a Sonata a few years ago on a trip to DC. Didn't know what to expect, but after looking at the style and driving it, I determined that this would make a great second car or even a car for a college student. I will say one thing. The Sonata is better than any car that Chrysler is selling.

Carl Steinhoff

September 19, 2009 01:42 PM

In my opinion this will be the car to finally sink the Toyota/Honda Camcord. It has a gorgeous design, with a beautifully resolved coupe-saloon styling - the headlights are particularly striking. Yes, it's a variation on the design theme Mercedes introduced with the CLS but the whole look of the car is distinctive and unlike anything I've seen so far. To all those who accuse Hyundai of ripping off other makers' designs just consider that every manufacturer takes styling cues from its peers - no maker is excluded from it. And right now Hyundai is doing a great job producing aesthetically pleasing designs that are easy on the eye.
Just for the record, to those who complain this Sonata looks like the VW Passat CC, this car started development in 2005 and its styling was signed off in 2007 at the latest - BEFORE the CC was unveiled in 2008 so the plagiarism accusation just doesn't hold here. I guess the real reason why some people are so hateful towards Hyundai is that they can't stomach a new entrant who's about to tip the status-quo and dethrone the current leaders. But this can only be a good thing for the competition and ultimately for us, the consumers.

Waterloo Engineer

September 19, 2009 02:12 PM

Larry example of a stereotypical caveman.

Hyundai Convert

September 20, 2009 12:51 AM

My dad drove the Hyundai more than 10 years ago only because it was cheap. Cheap it was and it performed subpar to the Japanese brands but mainly functional and relatively reliable.
I bought my first Hyundai when Korea impressed in Seoul Olympics and World cup.From Sonata then to a Tucson.
The driving experience has been pleasant and enjoyable.There has been tremendous improvement over the years and the Koreans are extremely hardworking and are well educated. They do not sit still and will continue to improve themselves and their products as evident by their improved Hyundai cars.
The only inexplicable downside is the lower resale. It still suffers a bit of brand inferiority to Japanese cars. Except for Toyota, Hyundai today is comparable to any Japanese cars and if you add in value for money, then the choice is more obvious.


September 20, 2009 06:09 AM

I am a soldier currently in Korea and i got chance to get in and play with one of these new Sonata at the mall here where they just unveiled it. THIS THING IS BAD!! I am a huge Genesis fan and it stands right there with it. Hyundai took all they learned from the Genesis and just made it in a small package. I am a 6 foot tall man and the old Sonata did not have enough room for me in the drivers seat. The new one has more than enough! The interior is just like the Gensis all the bells and wistles but you don't pay for them! I am looking at mabe even getting one of these instead of the Genesis. BTW I have also seen the redisigned EQUUS although it has been out for a couple of years overseas, when they bring this thing to the us ALL of you are in for a treat. Just imagine everything you could ever want in a luxury car without paying the luxury price! Go Hyundai!!


September 20, 2009 09:16 AM

Own the small HYUNDAI.. New car all
four tires knife edged. Windows leak.
Got rid of it. Traded for other one
little better luck. I think [ KIA] is
a better car.

Derrick G

September 20, 2009 09:26 PM

I'd been watching Hyundai's quality go up, but the safety, power/fuel economy balance and vehicle dynamics weren't there. Finally, in '05 bought '06 Sonata LX (now Limited). My mom bought an '06 Sonata GLS later that year. Neither has given any significant trouble. I'll say that Sonatas with low profile tires, like my LX has, DO have a problem with suspension noise on sharp pavement irregularities. But overall they've both been great values.

But this model I think will go well beyond value. For the first time, unless one of the others have some surprise up their sleeve, the Sonata will have both better power and fuel economy than the Accord or Camry in both Four and V6 versions. And call this a copy, but it's one thing neither the CLS or CC are: a true family sedan, with a real back seat. As long as the ride is nice and it's as quiet as I suspect it might be, Toyota and Honda are going to have a hard time responding...without being accused of copying.


September 20, 2009 10:10 PM

I bought a 2008 Kia Sorento and it has about 6k on the odometer. I can't tell you how disappointed I am with this Korean car. If the Sorento is indicative of the way that Koreans build cars, then I'll pass on the Hyundai. Besides the new Sonata looks like a rip-off of the Mazda 6 and Lexus ES350.


September 21, 2009 07:04 PM

In opinion, it will be a matter of time when Hyundai becomes a company others will follow.


September 22, 2009 10:53 PM

Hyundai has become better over past few years. The reliability of the car is quite good. I owned a Lantra for 6 years but never had any problems. In fact I wished it would breakdown so I could change! lol And there is the problem, Hyundai's image hasnt improved much although there standard has improved a lot. However, recent cars from Hyundai does not seem to have great improvement from its direct predecessors. I mean the styling has improved a lot but still interior and performance is sub-standard compared to German or Italian cars. I am not a big fan of American cars but they still have their reputation for power. And I am sure they will learn from their mistakes, which was humongous mistake in my opinion, and improve in next few years.


October 13, 2009 10:17 AM

I remember that they mourned together after the loss of two great leaders including Kim who was received the Nobel Prize in the year 2000. But they seem to conquest their misery. The only news we seem to hear out of South Korea at the moment is good news these days.


January 20, 2010 04:47 AM

I bought a 1999 Sonata GLS in October 1999, fully loaded for less than $21,000. I change the oil, rotate the tires and do all the basic maintenance. It has been serviced every 100,000 miles and now has 371,000 on it. The only thing that I get replaced regularly is the replacement wheel bearings. Living in Wisconsin, it has some rust started on the trunk and under the rear doors in the rocker panel. My cousin has a 2005 Impala, she paid $28,900 after all the incentives, the warranty expired at 36,000 miles and at 53,000 replaced the water pump, at 55,000 the alternator, at 61,000 a throttle positioning sensor, at 62,000 the power steering hoses and connectors, at 64,000 the power steering pump, at 72,000 the torque converter, at 72,600 the air conditioning compressor, at 77,000 both head gaskets and the heater core, and at 81,000 the transaxle. My wife's 2007 Chrysler 300C $45,400 has been in for repairs: 7 times for transmission, 6 times for instrument cluster, 6 times for all wheel drive, 5 times for trip computer, 4 times for vehicle information center, 4 times for electronic stability, 4 times for the automatic climate control, 3 times for engine power loss, 3 times for engine roughness, 3 times for antilock brakes, 3 times for the media center, 3 times for the cruise control, 3 times for heated seats, 3 times for faulty power outlets, 3 times for the touring suspension, 2 times for tire pressure monitoring display. The Sonata costs a lot less to buy than the Impala and 300 and a helluva lot less money in repairs and time spent at the dealers and the hassle of driving to the dealers and getting a small replacement car each time and it's lasting a lot longer mileage ways. So Larry Anderson, tell us how much "better" these two American cars are than my Sonata. C'mon I want to see your rational and logical explanation.


March 8, 2010 03:04 AM

I bought a 2009 Hyundai Elantra SE last September. So far, the car has been absolutely wonderful. As somebody above mentioned, Consumer Reports and JD Powers have given props to Hyundai (esp. the Elantra) so people should take notice. Hyundai is definitely right up there w/ Honda and Toyota.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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