Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Here Come the Koreans
Korean automakers Introducing Key New Products

Look out Chrysler, here come Hyundai and Kia. The Los Angeles Auto Show kicks off the new year's Auto Show Season this week. (It used to be the Detroit show the first week of January, but like in so many other areas Detroit has lost its leadership.) Hyundai and Kia look to be among the stars.

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata will make its official North American debut in Los Angeles, and will be on sale early next year. This Sonata promises to add another level of refinement and more standard equipment. The biggest feature is a next-generation, direct-injected 2.4 liter engine with class-leading horsepower, torque and fuel efficiency. The Theta II engine is set to deliver 200 horsepower and 186 lb./ft. of torque, Coupled with a new 6-speed automatic transmission, the expected EPA numbers in the mid to large-sized Sonata are 23 MPG city and 35 MPG highway. For comparison's sake, its closest competitor, the Chevrolet Malibu, has a direct-injected engine of the same size that yields 182 horsepower and 172 lb ft of torque, just a half-step below the Sonata. Last year the Malibu was top dog, but this year, it not only gives up the power lead but also trails the Sonata by 2 MPG city & highway. For another comparison, the Chrysler Sebring uses an earlier version (172 HP) of the same engine as the Hyundai and a 4-speed automatic transmission,and the Chrysler only has an EPA rating of 21/30. The Theta II engine cost Hyundai $140 million do develop. Chrysler's lack of such an engine and lack of a competitive transmission to attach to it are huge reasons why Chrysler is oozing red ink in the billions.

Kia is bringing out a completely redesigned Sorento CUV. They just started building this model in a new factory in Georgia. The Sorento is a direct competitor to the Dodge Journey and Chevrolet Equinox. In a year or so, Hyundai will come out with a redesigned Santa Fe that's built on the Sorento's platform.

Kia recently came out with a new compact sedan, the Kia Forte, which replaces the not-so-loved Kia Spectra. IMHO, the Forte is the best looking small car on the market, and from the photos, the interior is at least competitive with the better end of the class. Whereas the Spectra was a generation behind the leaders with its engine and transmission. New engines and transmissions make the Kia Forte competitive with today's Civic, Corolla and Mazda3, and on the same level as the upcoming redesigned ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze. Chysler doesn't even compete in the compact sedan segment.

Look for both Hyundai and Kia to gain market share during the coming year. Look for Chrysler to be the biggest loser.

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