RICK KRANZ

Hyundai, Kia flex their muscles in Chicago

The Track'ster's power comes from a 250-hp turbo inline four-cylinder engine channeled via all-wheel drive. The 2.0-liter engine is paired with a short-throw, six-speed manual transmission.
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Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.
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CHICAGO -- The big story out of the Chicago Auto Show is Korea.

As I look back at the last few days in the Windy City, the clear message is that both Hyundai and Kia are flexing their muscles. Each wants a bigger piece of the U.S. market.

Hyundai is expanding the popular Elantra line, adding a coupe and a five-door hatchback. Both announcements were made here Wednesday. The U.S. Elantra plant in Alabama can't keep up with sedan demand so the two new models will be imported from Korea. Sales begin in the next few months.

Both products are attractive, well-equipped. No price announcements yet. The five-door model is called the Elantra GT. GT? Hyundai says the car will offer driving dynamics in the European vein.

Dropped from the lineup is the Elantra Touring, a zippy, roomy little wagon that had achieved car of the year status in a number of countries. The Touring, known as the i30 outside this country, had been in the U.S. line for several years.

Hyundai won't say how many Elantra coupes and hatchbacks it expects to sell here. Assume it's a modest goal; say, 1,500 a month for each model. That's a potential gain of 36,000 units. Subtract the loss of the Touring wagon and the net gain is a potential 18,000 units.

The Elantra had its best year in 2011 with 186,361 sales. So there's the possibility the Elantra nameplate might top 200,000 units this year. Last year, Hyundai's top-selling car here was the Sonata, with 225,961 units sold.

The planning of the coupe and GT could not have been timed more perfectly by Hyundai: Last month the Elantra sedan was named North American Car of the Year.

Over at the Kia stand, the wraps were taken off the Track'ster concept, a two-tone, Soul-based three-door hatchback that clearly has an attitude. The roof was chopped; the A-pillar was angled further toward the back, and the fenders were flared out so the track could be widened. Kudos to the design team. A turbocharged, 250-hp four-cylinder engine was dropped under the hood, linked to an all-wheel-drive system. The overall package is cool.

The Track'ster concept is more than just a styling exercise, I was told. Kia is looking at ideas to expand the Soul line from one model, a five-door hatchback. Why? Simply, Soul is a popular seller in several countries, especially the United States. U.S. Soul sales set a record in 2011, 102,267. Kia wants to expand the range of the popular Soul nameplate.

There was no formal announcement, but in conversations this week with the Kia team it was clear that a three-door is under consideration, also possibly a low-priced convertible.

Any Soul-mates likely would arrive after the car is restyled and re-engineered, around 2014.

Simply, Soul is on a roll, too.

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