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Hyundai Motor Targets Expanded SUV Sales to Sustain U.S. Growth

Hyundai Motor Co., the fastest growing mass-market automaker in the U.S., expects sales of its sport-utility and crossover vehicles to rise faster than its cars in 2011.

“We have lots of upside opportunity on the car-based, light truck side of the market, in crossovers,” U.S. Chief Executive John Krafcik said in an interview yesterday in La Jolla, California. Hyundai’s share of U.S. retail car sales is about 7 percent and it’s about 2 percent for light trucks, he said.

The Seoul-based company this week said U.S. sales rose 45 percent in November and 23 percent in 2010’s first 11 months. The Sonata sedan, with a 65 percent gain this year, led the increase, along with Genesis luxury cars and Elantra compacts.

The automaker’s accelerating U.S. sales have been fueled by new models with enhanced designs, improved quality and prices typically below those of competing Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. models. Hyundai’s growth also coincides with Toyota’s efforts to reassure buyers about its quality after record recalls and the yen’s rise to a 15-year high against the dollar, which trims the competitiveness of Japanese exporters.

Light trucks, including SUVs, crossovers, minivans and pickups, have been the fastest growing vehicles in the U.S. this year, rising 18 percent through November, while industrywide car sales grew only 5.4 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

’Dramatic Gains’

“Cars are where our dramatic volume gains came from, but we’ve been underrepresented on the growth side with crossovers and SUVs,” Krafcik said. To remedy that, the company is seeking ways to boost production of its Tucson and Santa Fe models and increase supply of the 7-passenger Veracruz model.

“I’m not saying we need to add incremental products, but that we’ve got to find a way to get some more capacity so we can sell more of those products,” he said.

Hyundai rose 2.8 percent in Seoul trading to 182,500 won as of 1:17 p.m. The shares have risen 51 percent in 2010.

The company estimates the U.S. auto market will expand by 1 million units in 2011 to 12.5 million cars and light trucks, up 8.7 percent from about 11.5 million this year, he said.

Krafcik spoke after a briefing with reporters on the 2011 Elantra that Hyundai began selling in the U.S. late last month. The car, built at Hyundai’s Montgomery, Alabama, plant for the first time, is designed to win sales from Toyota’s Corolla and Honda’s Civic, the top-selling U.S. small cars.

Hyundai’s U.S. sales unit is in Fountain Valley, California.

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