By on January 16, 2019

Image: Hyundai

Ignore that slight dip in U.S. sales volume last year, Hyundai Motor America’s chief operating officer, Brian Smith, says. It’s just because the automaker stopped flinging so many cars at rental agencies.

Barring some unexpected disaster, 2019 should see the brand’s sales climb in the U.S., Smith said, adding that Hyundai’s not planning on pulling a Ford or GM anytime soon. Honest-to-God cars will live on in Hyundai’s lineup, but utility vehicles will continue earning an ever greater share of its total volume. No surprise, what with a big ‘ute on the way.

While the new Kona and upcoming Palisade will no doubt swell the ranks of Hyundai light truck buyers, Smith feels fans of the company’s Santa Cruz pickup concept will be pleasantly surprised by what the brand has in store for them.

Overall, Hyundai sales fell 1.1 percent in the U.S. in 2018, with passenger cars falling 15.1 percent and light truck sales rising 23.6 percent. Like other brands, Hyundai spent much of 2018 attempting to pare down the number of vehicles offloaded to rental fleets while boosting its commercial sales. On that front, the automaker was partially successful, though it’s still a ways from its fleet target.

But 2018 was also the year new, desperately needed crossovers started arriving. As Smith told Wards Auto at the North American International Auto Show, the continued popularity of the Tucson compact (sales rose 24 percent in 2018) and arrival of the subcompact Kona (Hyundai sold 47,090 last year) pushed car concerns to the background. A revamped Santa Fe (née Santa Fe Sport) also appeared on the scene last year.

Image: Hyundai

“We’re up about 40,000 units (2018 compared with 2017) on our SUVs, so that made up for most of the decline in sedan,” Smith said. “This year we’re adding a little bit of Kona and Santa Fe (CUVs to our commercial-fleet business), but Tucson’s a really popular fleet vehicle. It’s also popular at retail, and that’s our challenge right now…to meet the commitments to some of the fleet companies and still not run short at dealers.”

Smith predicts continued growth for the Kona, with perhaps 60,000 units sold in 2019. As for the burly Palisade, which goes on sale this summer, Hyundai’s aiming for a 5 percent market share in the three-row crossover segment, which translates into 25,000 to 30,000 annual sales.

Meanwhile, models like the revamped-for-2018 Accent and refreshed Elantra and Sonata still have a place in the lineup. “We’re not done with Sonata or Elantra,” Smith said. “We’re going to continue to improve those products…and we are going to gain market share (with others leaving).”

Hyundai santa cruz concept

Of course, in attempting to secure Ford and GM’s customer castoffs, Hyundai will have to compete with the likes of Honda and Toyota, the latter of which has a new Corolla arriving this spring.

One thing Toyota and Honda — or any other automaker, for that matter — can’t boast is a compact, unibody sport pickup, something Hyundai still plans to foist on the American marketplace. In the planning phase for what seems like eons, the truck is still a go.

“It’s going through a lot of reviews,” Smith said. “The one thing I’m most encouraged about, each time I see it with another change, is it still looks like the concept. It’s not submitting to a lot of changes.”

Smith refers to the unibody, midsize Honda Ridgeline a “tweener,” adding that Hyundai’s future offering “is much cooler and more youth-oriented.”

[Images: Hyundai]

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17 Comments on “Hyundai, While Not Pulling Up Stakes in the Car Market, Knows Where Its Future Prosperity Lies...”

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Hyundai makes a decent product. The MSRPs are close to the competition-but real world transaction prices are less than real world transaction prices from the competition.

    Makes you wonder if you will be able to get the Palisades for thousands less than a Tahoe or other comparable SUV.

    I have a 2017 Santa Fe XL Limited AWD purchased new-almost 21,000 miles and no issues.

  • avatar

    That Santa Cruz pickup tease is entering Supra/86 territory. Bring it to production already.

    • 0 avatar

      The Santa Cruz was never going to make to production before the next gen Tucson (upon which it shares a platform).

      Both will likely be built at Hyundai’s Alabama plant, so will require extensive retooling, if not expansion of the facility.

  • avatar

    If every OEM is paring down its fleet business to rental car companies… where do rental car companies get their cars?

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I think it wise for Hyundai to NOT offer a Kia-badged version of the minitruck. The two brands offer enough badge-jobs already. Kia has their unique Soul, Hyundai will have their Veloster and their trucklett. Differentiation is good, yet they can still reap huge rewards by using common platforms.

    –Kia fan

  • avatar

    Hyundai was not only slow in expanding its “light truck” line-up, of the models it did have, it didn’t plan for enough supply/capacity.

    Case in point the Tuscon – which has always been hampered by limited supply.

    Back in 2014, Hyundai only sold 47k Tucsons which has grown to nearly 154k last year, but could have been more.

    Both Toyota and Honda pump out more RAV-4s and CR-Vs than Hyundai production capacity at its Alabama plant (which doesn’t currently build the Tucson, but likely will w/ the next gen model).

  • avatar

    All this is such exciting news for fans of the marque, I’ve come over all giddy and need a good long sit down. Be still my beating heart!

  • avatar

    it’s gonna be ugly when we hit peak SUV, especially w/ the also rans like Hyundai

    excess supply will create its own demand at lower prices which will likely hurt 2nd/3rd tier brands like Hyundai the most

    that said, I think the G70 is the bomb

  • avatar

    Assuming competitive fuel economy/acceleration and a comparable equipment load, the redesigned 2020 Sonata (which I’ve seen spyshots of around) is No.1 on my list of cars to buy after I finish nursing school to replace my now 13-year-old Forester. It looks it might be quite pretty.

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