SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor Co, South Korea's top carmaker, unveiled its flagship sedan on Tuesday as it looks for ways to stimulate fragile local demand and grab a bigger slice of the U.S. market.
Analysts are optimistic the NF Sonata, a premium sedan similar to Volkswagen's Audi A6, can help Hyundai toward its goal of being a top five carmaker by 2010.
Hyundai Motor, which controls 48 percent of the domestic auto market, expects to sell more than 300,000 of the new Sonatas annually, including exports of 200,000 vehicles.
"It's true consumers won't easily loosen their purse strings. But we're confident the new Sonata can provide a much-needed impetus to a long-slumping local market," CEO Kim Dong-jin said at a ceremony to unveil the model.
The potential significance of the NF Sonata, Hyundai's first new model in six and a half years, has been likened to that of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry, which was the Japanese giant's first car sold in volume globally and helped catapult it to the world's No. 2 spot.
But some analysts noted the launch came at a time of soaring energy costs, stalled local consumption and cut-throat competition from global carmakers.
By 2007, Hyundai plans to sell 150,000 NF Sonatas annually in the United States, where it has a 2.4 percent share. Its U.S. plant is to begin production in March, replacing the previous Sonata model which had U.S. sales of about 120,000 a year.
The new car, priced from $14,100 to $20,200 in South Korea depending on accessories and engine type, will cost about 10 percent more than existing models abroad.
The new Sonata, which took 26 months to develop uses either a 2-liter or 2.4-liter engine, was jointly developed with former partner DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
Hyundai has dramatically raised its profile on the world stage, with a benchmark study by research firm J.D. Power showing an improvement in its quality to match the best Japanese brands.
It jumped from 10th place on last year's list to joint second with Honda Motor Co. Ltd., trailing only Toyota.
The Sonata series, the top selling cars in South Korea, have enjoyed strong brand recognition since their 1985 launch. In the first half of 2004, Hyundai sold 39,982 Sonatas at home and exported 55,145.