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Sonata squared: Hyundai’s next-generation YF-series mid-size sedan could be joined by a svelte European-designed sibling

Hyundai to follow Honda’s double-barrel Accord approach with its Sonata replacement

2 Nov 2009

NEXT year’s replacement for Hyundai’s slow-selling NF Sonata sedan could be joined in Australia in 2011 by another even sleeker mid-sized model aimed directly at Europe.

Codenamed VF and based on the same platform as the new YF-series sedan that will go on sale here in the first half of 2010, the additional mid-sized model will adopt the new i40 nameplate and could be a sedan, hatch or even a wagon.

While both models will be produced in Korea, the successor for the Sonata – a model name that will continue in Asia and the US, but not Australia – has already been released in South Korea and will also be produced in the US from early next year.

Latest speculation in Europe suggests the i40 will cater to continental demand for low-slung sports wagons and Australian Hyundai executives hope to position the all-new mid-sizer in a two-pronged model strategy similar to that of Honda’s Accords.

The European-designed VF, which will be Hyundai’s only new mid-sizer to be available with diesel power, is yet to be signed off for Australia, but sales and marketing director Kevin McCann said Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) would make a decision on its local fate next year, once full details of the model were known.

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“The global strategy there is that the YF will essentially be built for the North American and Asian markets and will therefore only have petrol engines,” he said last week.

“The VF, which is a car that will come about 12 months later on the same platform, is intended for European markets and that will have a diesel alternative.

“We’re definitely taking the YF and the jury is out on the VF. We’ll make the decision based on what it is, when we know more about it, probably after the next round of product meetings, which happen on a twice-a-year basis.” While the $A427 million YF has been launched in Korea with a 121kW/198Nm 2.0-litre Theta II four-cylinder petrol engine, mated to Hyundai’s new six-speed automatic transmission, a direct-injection 2.4-litre Theta II engine (similar to that in Kia’s new Sorento SUV) is expected to power the Australian model.

Little is known outside HMC about the VF, other than the fact it will be available with a version of Hyundai’s new R-series turbo-diesel engine, which is available in 2.2-litre guise in the facelifted Santa Fe medium SUV and 2.0-litre form in next year’s Tucson compact SUV successor, the ix35.

“To be honest we know a lot about YF but very little about VF,” said Mr McCann. “All I know is it’s a mid-size car, but the engineering is totally different – so in that sense it’s similar (to Honda’s Accord strategy).

“The packaging in terms of whether it’s a sedan or a wagon or hatch … both Accords are sedans … it’s unclear to us whether that will be the same for those two models.” Mr McCann, who has driven the Korean-designed YF, said Hyundai was working through a number of alpha-numeric naming options for the Sonata successor here.

“Another mid-sized sedan will be launched and it’s currently known internally as the YF,” he said. “It’s not yet named and we’re looking at a variety of names for the car.

“We are waiting for HMC to give us their pronouncement on the (nameplate) suggestions that we’ve made.

“YF will be called Sonata in the US and Korea, but we don’t want the Sonata name so we have to come up with our own name. We’ve been told we can’t have i40 because that belongs to something else – VF will be called i40 in Europe because the ‘i’ series is really a European naming strategy for Europe.

“We want to have ‘i’ and on an alphanumeric basis and it can’t be lower than 40 – it’s just which number we get to use. We’re not privy to the long-term plan for Europe, so we need a number that is not conflicting with the long-term plan for Europe,” he said.

GoAuto understands that after preliminary discussions about adopting the i40 name for the YF and naming the VF as the ‘i40 Euro’, HMCA now hopes to give the Sonata replacement a name like i45 or i50.

If it is successful and both mid-size models are sold here, the i40 would be the sixth i-series model to join Hyundai Australian line-up following the i20, which goes on sale in early 2010, the i30, the YF, the iMax and iLoad, which is known as the H1 in Korea.

Mr McCann said next year’s YF sedan was benchmarked against Lexus models.

“We definitely aspire to Lexus quality,” he said. “In the cycle testing of any given component if Lexus are doing durability testing on indicator stalks by turning it on or off 1000 times, then we’ll test ours 2000 times – that’s our approach to quality.

“It looks much smaller than it does in the pictures, but inside it’s very roomy – especially in the back. It’s a great package that fits the modern era. There’s a lot of chrome on it in different places that will be interesting.” The HMCA sales chief said he hoped for YF sales of around 500 a month. Hyundai has sold just 800 Sonatas so far this year (11.5 per cent down on 2008 figures), representing a monthly average of less than 90 vehicles.

He said two models would allow Hyundai to operate at both ends of the mid-size vehicle segment, with the YF potentially directed at the fleet market dominated by Toyota’s Camry and the VF able to compete with the privately popular Mazda6.

“The mid-level sedan segment is a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest segments in the marketplace and one in which we see a lot of potential, so we’re really looking forward to having a crack at it.

“The medium segment is one that stands to benefit from a public swing to fuel economy. If people decide that the advantages of an SUV aren’t outweighed by the cost of running one then the segment they’ll swing to is medium.

“If you have the strength there you pick some of that up if you have a presence there. If oil goes and stays above $120 a barrel then we’ll all think differently about what we drive, but we’re still going to move people and family and things around.

“At some point people start to say to themselves ‘do I really need an SUV when I have to pay $2/litre for fuel?’, but they’re not going to go back to a small hatch – they want something that’s lower and more fuel-efficient.

“If that happens there’ll be a shift from SUVs to smaller, medium sedans. At that stage diesel comes back into the equation and that’s where the VF, which will have diesel in its range, will come in.

“For some reason Australia seems to be this kind of bipolar market in the way some of us like European-style cars and others like US-style cars. It’s one of the few markets in the world with so many models and for us a producer we’re incredibly fragmented but for the consumer there’s a huge amount of choice.

“If you want to be part of it you’ve got to offer those choices.” Mr McCann said the medium-car segment was evenly spread across five or six key competitors.

“There’s not the same brand loyalty or preferential purchasing issues to deal with (as with large cars),” he said.

“So if we can get the right car and support it with the right communication at the right price then we have a chance to take a little bit from each of the five or six rivals and then become therefore one of the five or six.”

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