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Hyundai unveils new Sonata, hopes for gains

Hyundai Motor Co.'s sales gain in the U.S. should get another boost early next year with the introduction of an all-new midsize Sonata.
Auto Show Hyundai Sonata
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hyundai Motor Co.'s sales gain in the U.S. should get another boost early next year with the introduction of an all-new midsize Sonata.

The 2011 Sonata, far sleeker than its predecessor, was formally introduced Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The new car, which Hyundai says has a "fluidic sculpture" look, should lead the highly competitive segment in fuel economy with 35 mpg on the highway.

Hyundai, with sales up about 6 percent this year because of aggressive pricing, smaller fuel-efficient designs and clever marketing, has gained market share all year even though total U.S. auto sales have dropped 24 percent.

The new car will come equipped with six-speed automatic or manual transmissions, and only four-cylinder engines will be offered. At first, the only choice will be a brand-new high-tech 2.4-liter four cylinder. A turbocharged four-cylinder comes later.

The engine, which directly injects air and fuel into the cylinders for more power and efficiency, has 198 to 200 horsepower, more than small V6 engines of just a few years ago. Hyundai also promises electronic stability control and precise handling and steering response, as well as increased interior room.

It's one of seven new vehicles that Hyundai plans to introduce in the next two years. The company will officially unveil a new Tucson small crossover vehicle on Thursday in Los Angeles.

Pricing was not announced during a preview for the Sonata in November at Hyundai's North American technical center near Ann Arbor, but Hyundai executives said the competitive environment means vehicles are coming out with no, or only small, price increases.

The current Sonata has a base sticker price of $18,700 excluding $720 for shipping.

The midsize segment, which accounts for nearly 48 percent of the U.S. car market, traditionally is dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. But it's becoming increasingly competitive with strong entries from U.S. automakers.

The Sonata, to be built in Montgomery, Ala., should not be at a disadvantage because it has no V6 engine, said Scott Margason, the company's director of product planning. Only 10 percent of Sonatas now are sold with V6 engines, he said.

With up to 200 horsepower and high fuel economy "it's going to be even more difficult for people to think about moving up to a V6 when we've got vehicles like this as a base," Margason said.