At first glance, Hyundai almost seems guilty of piling on with the 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan: The automaker’s redesigned compact has earned both the 2012 North American Car of the Year award as well as an ongoing streak of strong sales, yet car is still going to showcase some notable equipment upgrades for the new model year.
In fact, the base model in the Elantra lineup—the Elantra GLS outfitted with one of Hyundai’s proprietary six-speed manual transmissions—will pack what used to be the entire Comfort Package onto its list of standard content, including air conditioning, bigger (16-inch) steel wheels, cruise control, a telescopic steering wheel and a solar-glass windshield with a shade band. Further, the Elantra GLS automatic, relying on another of Hyundai’s homegrown six-speed transmissions, will offer heated front seats as part of its Preferred Package, which is currently the highest-volume choice in the Elantra family.
Hyundai has fine-tuned the up-level Elantra Limited, too, by providing owners with a standard power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, while making the automaker’s Dual Automatic Temperature Control with Clean Air Ionizer and Auto Defog System part of the Elantra Limited’s Technology Package.
Now, pricing wasn’t released for the 2013 Elantra yet, and that likely means at least a small bump in MSRPs, and that—plus the actual content the new models will offer—would seem to position the move as Hyundai inching its way a bit further upmarket: When you’re selling vehicles like the Hyundai Genesis and Hyundai Equus, you don’t want do anything as tacky as offer an un-air-conditioned compact just to attract customers with an unrealistically low cost of entry. Yet there’s also reason to believe that Hyundai is simply scrambling for added volume in the face of unexpectedly stiff competition and slightly underwhelming sales.
Consider: The new Elantra is the company’s second-best-selling vehicle behind the Hyundai Sonata, and it did set a new record for annual sales last year. But there’s an asterisk involved, since the Elantra scored most of its biggest 2011 sales months while the Japanese automakers were still reeling from the effects of last spring’s earthquake and tsunami. In December of 2011, after the production issues with the rival Honda Civic were sorted out, the Elantra year-over-year sales drifted lower by about 75 units.
Elantra sales this year are up roughly 12.6 percent through February, at 24,720 units, but it’s underperforming against the industry as a whole. All told, the U.S. marketplace has lifted sales by 13.8 percent so far this year. The situation becomes even clearer when you compare the Elantra to the numbers from the compact segment’s volume leaders in the first two months of 2012:
- Civic, 48,970 sales, +45.1 percent
- Toyota Corolla, 40,136 sales, -13.6 percent
- Ford Focus, 37,750 sales, +89.8 percent
- Chevy Cruze, 35,476 sales, +10.2 percent
The Cruze and Corolla, obviously, aren’t seeing much growth, but the latter is at the tail end of its lifecycle and the former is outselling the Elantra by 43.5 percent while achieving double-digit increases against a very strong 2011—although the Cruze’s performance last year, like the Elantra’s, also was skewed northward by the situation in Japan.
In this context, it’s easy to see why Hyundai feels the need to goose the Elantra’s sales by making it a better fit with the rest of the lineup. Also sure to turn up the volume for Team Elantra are the two new body styles headed to U.S. dealerships later this year: The stylish Elantra Coupe and the Elantra GT, which will essentially replace the old-school Elantra Touring as a five-door hatchback entry.
That will give Hyundai a built-in volume advantage as the only brand outside of Honda to offer three different next-gen variants—sedan, coupe and hatchback—of its mainstream compact. Which also should give Hyundai a big-time boost to its sales volume.