LOS ANGELES -- Hyundai Motor America's on-again, off-again romance with the minivan is back on.
In June, Hyundai announced plans to launch its Entourage minivan next spring. The company then canceled that plan in August. But at a Thursday meeting in Las Vegas, U.S. dealers were told that the minivan was back in the lineup -- with the same spring 2006 introduction.
Hyundai also confirmed at the meeting a late 2006 arrival for a stretched version of the Santa Fe SUV that will seat seven. The Korean-built vehicle will be about the same size as a Ford Explorer. It will be based on a stretched version of the Sonata sedan platform.
The stretched Santa Fe will be powered by the 3.8-liter V-6 used in the Entourage, new Azera sedan and redesigned Santa Fe planned for next summer. There are no plans to use the 4.6-liter V-8 engine unveiled this month at the Tokyo Motor Show.
Hyundai canceled the Entourage when product planners could not differentiate it enough from its Kia Sedona sibling. Executives decided that the redesigned Santa Fe and its stretched version as well as its upcoming six-passenger crossover vehicle would give Hyundai enough people haulers.
But the allure of the large minivan market in the United States proved too strong, Bob Cosmai, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, told Automotive News. In addition, the upcoming crossover vehicle was going to arrive later than hoped -- in spring 2008.
"We felt we'd need the minivan sooner rather than later," Cosmai said. "We didn't want badge engineering. Our product planners really rolled up their sleeves."
Hyundai wants to sell 1 million units a year in the United States by 2010, plus another 500,000 units for Kia. Having a minivan in the lineup will help achieve that objective, Cosmai said. Last year, Hyundai sold 418,615 vehicles in the United States. Sales through September are up 9.6 percent over the year-ago period.
The Entourage will differ from the Sedona in its front and rear fascias, instrument panels and instrument clusters. Many optional features on the Sedona will be standard for the Entourage. Also, the Entourage will only be offered in long-wheelbase trim. The Sedona will have short- and long-wheelbase versions.
Just the same, Hyundai Product Planning Vice President John Krafcik told Automotive News: "They won't look like two completely different vehicles."
Both the Sedona and Entourage will be built on a Kia assembly line in Korea. Hyundai hopes to sell about 27,000 Entourages in the United States in 2006.
As for the upcoming 2008 crossover vehicle, Cosmai said some hints can be seen in the Portico concept that was shown at the Chicago Auto Show in February and the NEOS-III concept at the Tokyo show this month.
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