HWASEONG, South Korea — When beginning work on the next-generation Sonata sedan, Hyundai engineers asked whether they should even bother, given the segment's slumping sales.
But the automaker decided the 34-year-old nameplate had too much brand equity to lose. So, instead of killing off its midsize workhorse like some rivals, Hyundai opted to make a splash with its update.
"In the beginning, we were like, 'Is it right to carry on with this?' We had questions," Hyundai's global design head, SangYup Lee, said. "But this car is the one that made the brand. If we can make a statement with this car, it means something for the company and for this segment."
Indeed, Hyundai promises that the redesigned, eighth-generation Sonata for 2020, unveiled March 27, is packed with "Four News," which will make the stalwart sedan stand out from the crowd.
On tap: a new platform, a new powertrain, a new design language and new technologies.
One of Hyundai's oldest nameplates is now leading off a wave of products that will leverage similar offerings as Hyundai looks to burnish its reputation as a leader in stylish design and cool technology, all wrapped in a tough-to-beat value-for-money proposition.
Last year, U.S. sales of the Sonata slumped 20 percent to 105,118 units and the nameplate ranked sixth in the segment behind the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu. The midsize car segment shrank 16 percent.
But competition in the segment may soon thin out.
Ford announced last year that it will discontinue the Fusion, along with the Fiesta, C-Max, Focus and Taurus as it bails on the sedan segment. General Motors, meanwhile, plans to dump the Chevrolet Impala, along with the Chevrolet Cruze, Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac CT6.