Hyundai expects it will be able to expand its US market share despite a deepening recession and expectations for one of the worst industry-wide sales years in decades, an executive for the Korean automaker said.
"We feel pretty good despite a difficult economy that we're well positioned to continue to grow in North America," said Dave Zuchowski, vice president in charge of sales for Hyundai USA.
"We're as well positioned as anybody to deal with a very difficult economy."
A key component of that plan is a new incentive plan called Hyundai Assurance which offers to let people return their cars without a significant penalty if they lose their job or become disabled within a year of buying them.
"It's really struck a chord," Zuchowski told AFP on Monday on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.
Hyundai came up with the idea in October after US sales collapsed in the wake of a financial crisis and credit crunch.
Internal research showed that half of potential buyers were putting off plans do buy a new vehicle, mostly out of concern that they could lose their job.
Traffic to Hyundai's website has increased by 50 per cent since the program was launched on January 3 while a recent survey found that the number of people who'd consider buying a Hyundai has increased by 15 per cent, he said.
The automaker will also profit from its reputation as a "value" brand and its fuel efficient lineup, Zuchowski said.
Hyundai sells the least expensive car in the United States and just won the prestigious car of the year award at the Detroit auto show for its lower-cost Genesis luxury sedan.
While Hyundai did not benefit from the rich profits associated with the boom in trucks and large sport utility vehicles, it has also not suffered the pain of a sharp drop in demand in the wake of high fuel prices, Zuchowski.
"We believe even in soft market conditions the entry level segment where our Accent plays and the compact car where Elantra plays are going to be relatively stable," he said, adding that Hyundai will also benefit from the introduction of seven new models in the next 24 months.
Zuchowski would not give a target for 2009, but said Hyudai hopes to achieve consistent market share improvements of 10 per cent a year over the long-term.
Hyundai's US sales fell 14 per cent to 401,742 in 2008, but it managed to increase its market share from 2.9 to 3.0 per cent.
A financial crisis, credit crunch and deepening recession pushed 2008 US sales down 18 per cent in the steepest decline in 29 years and to the lowest level since 1992.
This year is expected to be even worse, with US auto sales forecast to fall by up to three million vehicles to between 10.5 and 12 million units.