There are no bad cars. It’s been years since I’ve seen a really bad car to be sold as new in the USA. Maybe the not lamented Chrysler Sebring came close before it evolved into the Chrysler 200 for 2011. So, as the new V-Platform Nissan Versa is poised to be launched for the 2012 model year as the lowest price new car available in the USA you wonder if a new car priced so low is a bad car? The answer is a resounding no. But with the Versa and new Hyundai Accent arriving almost concurrently on the market it begs brief comparison.
2012 Nissan Versa Sedan
2012 Hyundai Accent Sedan
The all new Hyundai Accent has just been introduced and it may be the final part of Hyundai’s grand slam in sedans. First the Genesis, winner of AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) in each of its three years on the market. Then the all new 2011 Sonata that won the only President’s Award (highest VSA score ever) given by AutoPacific and then won best in class for the model year. The all new Hyundai Elantra won best in class among compact cars for the 2011 model year. Three out of three isn’t bad. The new Accent is certainly a contender.
First we had the Sonata and now we have the Elantra. The Sonata was the direct hit to the gut but the Elantra is the uppercut that no one saw coming. Gunning for the respect of Hyundai naysayers, the Elantra delivers the quality, fuel economy, and price tag that will change minds and make believers.
While other automakers have raised the price of their new c-segment vehicles to make them in America with a profit, Hyundai has changed the game again. Hyundai seems to be bucking the trend these days of lofty price tags. The Elantra is a stylish value package assembled in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that needs to be at the top of your test drive list.
Last summer during a discussion with senior Hyundai management in Seoul, I asked “When can we expect to see a third plant for Hyundai and or Kia in the United States?” The response was “A third plant will be necessary when Hyundai and Kia sell 900,000 per year in the USA.”
In 2010, Hyundai sold 538,228 cars and light trucks in the USA and Kia sold 356,496 cars and light trucks. That is a total of 874,496 cars and light trucks for these two fast-growing brands. That number is also close enough for us to hypothesize that an announcement for a third Hyundai or Kia plant in the USA should be forthcoming.
Two USA Plants Already at or Above Capacity: Clearly, Hyundai is pushing the capacity of their Montgomery, Alabama plant. With the Sonata Mid-Size Sedan setting all-time sales records and the newly launched Elantra promising to sell very well, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama is out of capacity even at its increased capacity planning volume of 400,000 units. Hyundai has announced it is importing Elantras from Korea to meet extraordinary demand in the USA. Kia is adding a third shift to its West Point, Georgia plant producing Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe crossover sport utility vehicles.
Rumor – Mississippi Hyundai-Kia has likely squeezed as many concessions as possible from Alabama and Georgia to support its two plants there. A logical next choice still within range of Hyundai and Kia suppliers is Mississippi. With a third plant in the offing, any state would be willing to offer substantial concessions for the investment dollars and jobs a large scale plant inevitably generates.
Over the years, most Americans have considered small cars penalty boxes they were forced to drive because they couldn’t drive anything bigger or better. The Big Three concurred with their small cars designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator driver, at the lowest cost and at the lowest price. No wonder the Pinto/Bobcat, Vega, Omni/Horizon, Escort/Lynx, Cavalier/Sunbird, Cobalt/G5 never resonated. They sold in relatively large numbers because they had to to help their manufacturers meet CAFE requirements, but rarely did a buyer purchase one out of desire or lust. The Japanese partially solved the small car equation offering Civic, Corolla, Mazda3, Lancer, Impreza and more recently the Kizashi. All were desirable small cars with great quality offered at affordable prices. With their latest offerings, the Koreans are fully engaged with the new Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra. So, the small car – C-Class – segment is now ready for more real competition this time from Chevrolet, Hyundai and Ford.
Over the past couple of months, I have driven three new high volume C-Class cars that redefine the small car category in the United States if not the world. The Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus will each be a big seller and each has its positive attributes. They are within inches of each other in size and take each takes the word “cheap” out of the definition of a small car. The missing entrant in this bunch is the upcoming Honda Civic that will evolve for the 2012 model year, but while we’ve seen the car, the official specs and fuel economy data have not yet been released.
If you have been watching sports on TV for the past couple of weeks you cannot have missed the Hyundai spot for Sonata winning AutoPacific’s first-ever President’s Award. Hyundai won the award going away with the highest score ever recorded.
Watch and enjoy…
Kia Becomes Instantly Relevant in the Premium Mid-Size Segment The new Kia Optima is set to challenge the top of the premium mid-size car category with its 3rd generation 2011 model year version due out by the end of 2010. The Optima is arguably the most strikingly gorgeous cars in the class. It looks upscale, elegant, sporty and highly desirable.
Optima is a sibling of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata that set records in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Sonata became the top scoring vehicle EVER in AutoPacific’s research and won AutoPacific’s first-ever President’s Award. Part of the reason Sonata won was because of its aggressive styling which was important to its buyers and highly satisfying to them. Over time, though, the swoopy Sonata styling may wear a bit thin even as it sells over ten thousand cars a month. Optima looks just as modern and contemporary, but more elegant. Optima may have more legs. We’ll have Optima’s VSA results in April next year.
Optima Sales Will Increase Kia Volumes by Over 50,000 Units Per Year Optima will be largely incremental to Kia in the USA. All previous Optima sedans have been cyphers – not really competitive. Just good, basic value transportation. This new Optima moves Kia into the big leagues. Kia will be fighting with the rest of the world for Optima output so its volume cannot match that of Hyundai with its Sonata production here in the USA, but selling 120,000 Optimas a year is not out of the question.
I’m rarely one to toot my own horn, but I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: there’s a bit of me in the brand-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson. Once upon a time, not that long ago, I was a product planner at Hyundai who was tasked with finding and developing a new concept direction for the second generation Tucson. The first Tucson, which debuted for the 2005 model year, was a decent if uninspiring small crossover SUV, and Hyundai really wanted to hit the second generation out of the park.
Does the 2011 Sonata Deserve the AutoPacific President’s Award – Yes
Driving the Sonata We just finished a week driving a 2011 Sonata Limited priced at about $28,500 fully loaded. Is the car as perfect as its early owners indicate? Yes, and no. The car looks great, but styling is very subjective. It looks different from other cars on the road. It turns heads. It is distinctive. While styling is rated almost perfect by its early buyers we wonder how it will resonate with more conservative buyers who are not risk taking early adopters.
The interior is very nicely appointed. The Sonata we drove has the wine colored interior package. It feels very upscale. Tasteful. Hyundai has done a excellent job on ergonomics. The controls fall easily to hand and are easy to understand. The fonts are mostly big enough. At night the controls and instrumentation are tastefully lit by ice blue lighting. Very nice.
4-Door Coupe Styling Doesn’t Hurt Practicality One of the things we value most highly when living with a car is how easy it is to get into and out of. We were concerned that the swoopy styling of the Sonata would hurt ingress/egress. It doesn’t. The car is easy to get into and out of. The cabin is very spacious and the rear seat is comfortable even with its fast sloping roof.
We knew the 2011 Hyundai Sonata is a good new car, but we did not know how good. Luckily, the 2011 Sonata was launched early in 2010 during the time period AutoPacific‘s 2010 New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey was in the field. We were able to add the new Sonata to the 2010 survey to see how this newcomer would compare with 2010 model year competition. Nine-hundred seventy-five owners of the new Sonata responded to AutoPacific’s survey on our VehicleVoice survey site.
The results were astonishing. The Sonata scored the highest ratings ever in the 14 year history of AutoPacific’s vehicle satisfaction research. As a 2011 model year car, the Sonata was not eligible for AutoPacific’s 2010 Vehicle Satisfaction Award, but we felt it was only right to recognize the Sonata in some way. Hence, AutoPacific is awarding the 2011 Hyundai Sonata with its first-ever President’s Award.