It's show time in the world's largest auto market, with the 2010 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition kicking off this weekend. And interestingly enough, it's small cars that are making big news'”at least in terms of their impact on U.S. drivers. Take the new Hyundai Accent, the next product to benefit from Hyundai's comprehensive'”and so far successful'”redesign program.
The first, the 2010 Hyundai Tucson, introduced a dramatic new exterior design language, more efficient powertrains and a more refined interior early this year, and the crossover's sales numbers have been quite impressive.
Looking for customers in a highly competitive segment that includes products like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, the Tucson is gaining continuing traction in the marketplace. Sales for the vehicle jumped from just 974 in January, when the previous-generation Tucson was still selling, to 2,741 in February, after the 2010 model debuted. Then, in March, the crossover crested the 3,000-sales mark.
Then came the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, using the same recipe for success and reaping even bigger sales rewards. Sonata sales more than doubled between February and March as the new model became widely available. In fact, according to Hyundai, the Sonata had the third-best retail sales numbers in the mid-size sedan segment in March, trailing just the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord'”and ahead of the 2010 Ford Fusion.
Since the Sonata's debut, we've also seen the next-gen 2011 Hyundai Azera (pictured right), an up-level large sedan that will go on sale later this spring, and the truly premium 2011 Hyundai Equus, which will take on entries from Lexus and Mercedes-Benz beginning this summer. However, these aren't expected to be high-volume products for Hyundai; sales of these two sedans for the rest of 2010 could be a tiny fraction of what the Sonata moved in March and Hyundai could still claim success.
It's also worth noting that neither the Azera nor the Equus seems to be wearing the new Hyundai exterior, either.
On the other, getting back to the coming Accent, due in the U.S. later this year, Hyundai has obviously worked hard to ensure its new subcompact sedan bears a close family resemblance to the Sonata. The Accent shares the same swoopy front grille and flowing character lines as the Sonata, although the look is more sculpted on the Accent, making for an all-around more aggressive appearance.
The 2011 Hyundai Accent also will be a bit bigger than the current model, gaining a couple of inches in the wheelbase, with a higher-quality interior.
Of course, the new model also will be more efficient than the outgoing Accent, too. While the stingiest current version can go 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway/31 mpg combined in the 2010 EPA ratings, the word out of Beijing is that the 2011 sedan could crack 41 mpg, although you never know what might get lost in the translation.
And in addition to getting a makeover itself, the Accent will be part of a new strategy by Hyundai to makeover its subcompact family.
Currently, Hyundai offers one of the very few sub-$10,000 vehicles left on the market in the three-door hatchback Accent, and one of the few subcompact sedans in the form of the four-door. But going forward, a new, sportier product, also a small hatchback, will come on line to fill two different slots. Not only will it be Hyundai's rival to cars like the Honda Fit, but it will also take over the role that used to be filled by the Hyundai Tiburon small sports coupe.
The net effect will be to further move the Hyundai brand away from its bargain-basement origins, while also'”perhaps'”helping to increase customer interest in the subcompact segment as a whole.
Ford Start Shows Off Three-Cylinder EcoBoost
Another Beijing vehicle whose small size belies its likely big impact is the Ford Start concept. The Blue Oval made it abundantly clear that this was a true concept, with no plans for production, but even that in itself is good news for the company. It's been literally years since the last time Ford brought out a vehicle purely as a way to show off its design and tech expertise, so this is further evidence that the company is turning things around.
The Start is a simple yet sophisticated take on the city car idea, with a somewhat Audi-esque profile and a certain amount of sporting spirit'”which is the important news for U.S. buyers.
Ford's curvy concept packs a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine that will be good for about 40 mpg and a relatively potent 120 hp'”that's more than enough for some snappy performance in the subcompact or even compact segments. And that engine is the one component of the Ford show car that will definitely make it to the U.S.
Consider it the Start of something new in the battle for increased fuel efficiency.