Domestic Carmakers Pin Hopes on Large Sedans

Hyundai plans to roll out a new large sedan around October, to be called Aslan, which means lion in Turkish. The Aslan will be bigger than the large Grandeur passenger car but smaller than the Genesis luxury sedan.

Its release is expected to heat up competition in the segment in Korea, where local makers struggle to beat off imports like BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

Kia Motors, Renault Samsung and GM Korea are also coming up with new large sedans.

◆ Beating Imports

The Aslan will be a front wheel-drive sedan packing a 3.0 to 3.3 liter engine at a price tag of around W40 million (US$1=W1,019). Increasingly, large sedans here are synonymous with imports, while many Korean baulk at buying larger cars altogether since they can be impractical in city traffic.

Hyundai has made the Aslan 4,960 mm long, which is longer than the Grandeur (4,910 mm), but shorter than the Genesis (4,990 mm). But the Aslan will feature a top-notch, comfortable interior. A Hyundai spokesman said, "The chassis isn't big, but it features a voluminous design, while its plush interior will be able to compete with any imported model."

Renault Samsung, meanwhile, will unveil a face-lifted version of its SM7 large sedan next month. Company president Park Dong-hoon claims the changes make it "virtually a new model."

Kia is rolling out a face-lifted model of the K9 luxury sedan in November. Following lagging sales of the K9, Kia changed the front design early this year and also slashed the price by W6.6 million.

GM Korea will begin sales of its 2015 Alpeon large sedan Tuesday.

◆ Brand Image

The main reason for the onslaught is that large sedans offer bigger margins and, if they catch on, can improve a carmaker's brand image across all segments. But they will have a hard time taking on established foreign brands.

Even though the Korean market saw slow sales, imported brands' sales rose 26 percent to 112,375 units in the first seven months of this year compared to the same period of 2013. And large luxury sedans led the rise.

BMW sold more than 6,700 of its 520d model so far this year, ranking it No. 1 in sales among imports. Audi sold 6,100 A6 over the same period, while sales of the Mercedes E Class totaled 5,980. The Hyundai Genesis and Grandeur are the only domestic models that compete in this segment.

Emboldened by their success in the large-car segment, foreign automakers are now targeting the domestic markets for small SUVs and other vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz will start selling the GLA compact SUV, while Lexus will become the first foreign carmaker to introduce a compact luxury hybrid SUV here, the NX300h.

Kim Ki-chan at Catholic University said, "Domestic consumers have been drawn to the fuel efficiency of diesel imports, and this trend looks to persist for some time. Domestic carmakers need to improve fuel efficiency and lower their price tags."

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 25, 2014 12:00 KST