Hyundai on Tuesday held a press junket to unveil its first small SUV.
Hyundai vice chairman Chung Eui-sun drove a neon-green Kona on to the stage, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans in an attempt to illustrate the concept of the SUV, which is named after a vacation spot in Hawaii.
Chung Eui-sun, the son of chairman Chung Mong-koo, was heavily involved in the development and marketing of the small SUV, which fits in a booming segment of the largely saturated Korean market. He said the Kona boasts both "fuel efficiency and safety" and added that it will be the first Hyundai compact to be marketed in all major markets around the world.
Hyundai is a Johnny-come-lately in the small SUV market, which is dominated by Ssangyong's Tivoli, Renault Samsung's QM3 and GM Korea's Trax. Last year, Hyundai affiliate Kia joined the fray with the Niro.
Hyundai vice president Jeong Rak said, "We believed we had no choice but to develop one that would stand out of the pack."
The Kona is equipped with latest safety features and gadgets despite a relatively cheap price tag of between W18.95 and W27.10 (US$1=W1,129).
◆ Sales Booster
The market for smaller SUVs is booming around the world, up almost 10-fold from 485,000 vehicles in 2010 to 4.64 million last year. That translates into a growth rate of 45.6 percent on average each year, the fastest in all segments. Small SUV sales are expected to rise 19.4 percent this year to 5.54 million.
Hyundai has been suffering from slow sales in the U.S. and other markets abroad. May sales in China were down more than 60 percent on-year, and in the U.S. 15.5 percent. "We have suffered a setback in sales, but we will use this as an opportunity to overhaul our lineup," Chung said.
Hyundai hopes to sell 26,000 Konas in Korea this year and 41,000 in the U.S. and Europe, or around 4,000 per month. In comparison, Ssangyong sells around 4,700 Tivolis a month.
Hyundai also plans to develop a subcompact SUV and large SUV by 2020. An electric version of the Kona is slated for release next year, capable of traveling 390 km in a single charge, while a hydrogen fuel-cell version will also be introduced.
Chung said Hyundai will roll out a dozen EVs and other eco-friendly cars by 2020 and added, "We will strengthen business ties with technology firms such as Baidu and Uber."
Hyundai vice chairman Chung Eui-sun (far right) poses with its brand-new small SUV in a studio in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday.