LOS ANGELES - Hyundai Motor America is looking for a few good dealers.
With about 60 percent of its sales coming from its top 30 markets, Hyundai wants to concentrate its efforts even more in those metro areas. And the company thinks it has a compelling story.
A new Sonata has just been launched, and the press gave the thumbs-up to the Santa Fe mini sport-utility coming in spring 2000.
Hyundai already has 460 dealers and wants to raise that to around 480. It does not plan to cut dealers in the smaller metropolitan areas, said Bob Cosmai, Hyundai Motor America vice president of sales.
'After dealers saw the Sonata and Santa Fe, we had a lot of inquiries, including from dealers who walked away before,' he said.
'But we're not planning on inundating a market. We want to protect our existing dealer network.'
However, Hyundai also knows it has a lot of baggage to overcome with its sales pitch. Sales have swooned from the boom years. In 1998 they dropped an additional 20.3 percent and fell below 100,000 units for the first time since Hyundai started selling cars here.
Hyundai quality still ranks near the bottom on owner surveys, incentive levels are still high compared with the prices of its vehicles, and its finance arm has been battered by its reliance on consumers with poor credit.
Hyundai wants 1999 sales to increase from last year's 90,217 back to 100,000, said Cosmai, who was wooed away from Acura Division in October.
Cosmai hasn't set Hyundai's sights too high. There's no franchise fee to join up, just some up-front capital for signs and parts.