Hyundai targets 4.5 percent rise in U.S. market share

on February 16 2010 9:06 AM

ORLANDO, Florida - Hyundai Motor Co aims to increase its share of the U.S. market to 4.5 percent this year from 4.2 percent in 2009, helped by popular new product launches and aggressive marketing.

South Korea's Hyundai, the only major automaker to increase sales in the battered U.S. market last year, sees a really good chance that its U.S. sales will break the 500,000 unit mark for the first time in 2010, U.S. sales chief David Zuchowski told Reuters in an interview.

Last year, Hyundai's U.S. sales rose 8.3 percent to 435,064 units, while overall U.S. industrywide sales were down 21 percent. Its share of the U.S. market jumped to 4.2 percent from 3 percent in 2008.

The 500,000 number is a magical number for us, Zuchowski told Reuters on the sidelines of the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando, Florida.

Hyundai U.S. chief executive John Krafcik, in a separate interview with Reuters, said it is unlikely that the automaker can match its hefty 1.2-percentage-point gain in U.S. market share in 2010.

Zuchowski agreed, pointing out that while Hyundai may gain a share due to a drop in Toyota sales in 2010, rivals General Motors Co GM.UL and Chrysler Group LLC won't be as weakened as they were in 2009, when both went through federally funded bankruptcies.

Hyundai's upbeat forecast comes at a time when bigger rival Toyota Motor Corp is reeling from massive safety recalls that have cut into its sales and financial results and tarnished its once-stellar reputation for quality.

Hyundai, GM, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler are all offering $1,000 in incentives to consumers trading in Toyota vehicles.

Krafcik said the duration of the current incentive for Toyota customers is not clear beyond the end of February.

Krafcik said Hyundai's program targeted only customers who trade in Toyotas and did not apply to consumers who owned Toyotas but were not using them as trade-ins.

That's a key difference between Hyundai and the others, said Krafcik.

Long considered a cheaper alternative to Toyota and other Japanese automakers, Hyundai has been seen as catching up to Toyota on quality and posted a 24 percent gain in U.S. sales in January. Toyota sales fell 16 percent last month.

Krafcik said a key to Hyundai's success in 2010 will be new product. It has announced that by the end of 2011 it will have introduced seven new products in the U.S. market.

Before the Toyota recalls in the past several months, about 6 percent of trade-ins for new Hyundai vehicles were Toyotas, Zuchowski said. Recently, that figure has jumped to 11 percent, he said.

Among Hyundai customers, the most cross-shopped automaker is Toyota, he said.

In the past few weeks, we have virtually not lost anyone to Toyota, Zuchowski said.

The gain for Hyundai in the wake of Toyota's problems, he said, was in the number of consumers who are seriously considering the brand when shopping.

We are getting a jump in intenders, said Zuchowski, who before would not consider us while they would consider Toyota.

Krafcik and Zuchowski both said that the highly successful Hyundai Assurance program, introduced in early 2009 as U.S. consumer confidence ebbed, will not expire until after 2011. Whether it will live beyond that, they said, no decision had been made.

The program is a safety net for consumers afraid of losing their jobs. In 2009, almost 100 customers returned cars in the program, allowing buyers to walk away from loans without a negative mark on credit reports if they lost their jobs.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall and Soyoung Kim; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)

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