Hyundai Acknowledges Seventh-Generation 2015-2017 Sonata "Didn't Turn Heads"
After the forgotten third-generation car, the odd and bulbous fourth-generation car, and the dull fifth-generation car, the sixth Hyundai Sonata was unveiled at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was surprising, even shocking, that Hyundai so dramatically transformed its staid midsize car into a radical “fluidic sculpture” sedan.
In the United States, after averaging 132,000 sales over the previous half-decade, the Hyundai Sonata exploded. By 2012, Hyundai sold more than 230,000 copies, and the Sonata averaged 215,000 U.S. sales between 2010 and 2014, a 63-percent increase compared with the previous half-decade average.
The momentum was not sustained. The seventh-generation Hyundai Sonata debuted in the United States at 2014’s New York International Auto Show. Where did the fun go? Where was the drama, the cat-like headlamps, the desire to stand out from the pack?
“We went from a very striking design, to a very beautiful car, but it just didn’t turn heads like the car before it did,” Hyundai Motor America’s vice president of product planning, Mike O’Brien, tells Automotive News.
Predictably, buyers turned away. In 2016, the seventh-generation Sonata’s second model year, U.S. Sonata sales fell below 200,000 units for the first time since 2010. Through the first-half of 2017, Sonata volume is down 27 percent, year-over-year. The Hyundai Sonata’s share of America’s shrinking midsize sedan sector is down to 8.4 percent, a full percentage point drop compared with 2016. Hyundai is on track for fewer than 150,000 Sonata sales in America in 2017, a 35-percent drop in just five years.
Yet even with an all-new 2018 Toyota Camry arriving this summer and an all-new 2018 Honda Accord reaching dealers in the coming months, Hyundai believes the freshened 2018 Sonata can hold its own. In part, that’s because the automaker believes the shrinking passenger car market won’t shrink further.
“Based on all the industry indices, it appears we’ve about reached equilibrium between car and truck,” Hyundai’s O’Brien says. “The industry’s balancing out. The numbers you’re seeing now are more reflective of natural demand.”
In the first-half of 2017, 37 percent of America’s auto industry was powered by cars, down from 41 percent in 2016, 45 percent in 2015, 49 percent in 2014, 51 percent in 2013, and 53 percent in 2012, the year Sonata sales peaked.
Yet if the Hyundai’s choice of forecasts are correct — that the Camry and Accord will spur renewed midsize sedan interest, that midsize sales will bottom out in 2019, that incentive as a percentage of the average transaction price and days’ supply and days to turn — then the Sonata won’t struggle to achieve Hyundai’s goal: maintain its market share.
Steph Willems’ first-drive review of the 2018 Hyundai Sonata was the most-read review on TTAC in July, which certainly serves as some kind of statement regarding the car’s continued interest.
Whether front and rear restylings, thorough underpinning revamps, a new trim strategy that emphasizes the meat of the lineup, and the absence of panoramic sunroofs can entice prospective Camry and Accord owners remains to be seen. But at least the 2018 Hyundai Sonata, like it or not, is something of a return to the days of eye-catching Sonatas.
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.
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