Last week I drove a Santa Fe sport-utility wagon sent by Hyundai as part of its evaluation fleet for media folk like me.
The vehicle was everything that my experience with Hyundai had led me to expect: a solid, mainstream hauler that holds its own against any of the many medium-size crossovers that combine the high-riding security of a big SUV with the easy manageability of a passenger sedan.
You see enough Santa Fes on the roads everyday – along with other popular Hyundai models like the Tucson crossover and the Sonata and Elantra automobiles – that they blend right in. In the span of about a dozen years, Hyundai has grown to become a standard and accepted landmark on the American automotive scene.
But suddenly Hyundai looks stalled. So far, 2013 is turning out to be a boom time for auto companies, yet Hyundai isn’t sharing the big spurt in vehicle sales that is lifting other brands right now. It would be a real loss for us if the company’s heyday ends so soon, because Hyundai Motor America has recently made some big contributions to our auto market – not just in its own models, but in improvements it has forced from other manufacturers.
The good news is that the company’s current sputter appears to be only that, a sputter. And it has nothing to do with the popularity of its vehicles, which looks to be holding strong.
Headquartered in South Korea with car-making operations in America and around the globe, Hyundai started selling autos here in 1986. But it ran through about 14 years of low-level obscurity before a big boost in its stature began with the new millennium, around the year 2000. Now Hyundai sells American drivers more than twice the number of vehicles that it did 12 years earlier. It’s still a second-tier car company here. Total sales so far in 2013 are close to 550,000 vehicles. By comparison, General Motors and Ford are in the 2-million range, while Toyota has sold about 1,700,000 new cars in the U.S. through September.