Wait Just a Minute, Is That Thing Really a Hyundai?

LAS VEGAS It wasn't that long ago Hyundai was considered strictly an entry-level brand. So for the sixth year, Hyundai Motor America used the Specialty Equipment Marketing Assn. show here to further disassociate itself from its humble beginnings. The South Korean auto maker showed seven distinct vehicles aimed at turning the heads of young tuners and sprucing up its economy-car image in the process.

LAS VEGAS — It wasn't that long ago Hyundai was considered strictly an entry-level brand.

So for the sixth year, Hyundai Motor America used the Specialty Equipment Marketing Assn. show here to further disassociate itself from its humble beginnings.

The South Korean auto maker showed seven distinct vehicles aimed at turning the heads of young tuners and sprucing up its economy-car image in the process.

And each vehicle does indeed challenge onlookers to rethink their impression of what a Hyundai is, ranging from a Sante Fe cross/utility vehicle with Lamborghini-style swing-up doors to an Entourage minivan equipped with about $8,000 worth of elaborate audio and video equipment.

“It's important people recognize we're more than basic transportation,” says Michael Deitz, HMA manager-product planning.

Hyundai already is cultivating a value and safety oriented image, thanks to high rankings in the J.D. Power & Associates initial quality study and loading up even its least-expensive vehicles with side and curtain airbags.

The auto maker also offers XM Satellite radio as standard equipment on about half the vehicles it sells in the U.S., with three months free subscriber service. More such upscale features will be available in the future, from navigation systems to high-definition radio, Deitz says.

While these features enhance Hyundai's value proposition, the ability to customize helps make the brand cool to buyers more focused on style and fun than practicality.

And, Hyundai's typically low price point means buyers will have more money left to customize their vehicles, says Deitz, noting the ability to customize is important to younger buyers.

Hyundai's sporty '07 Tiburon SE is a natural canvas to show off track-inspired styling and handling accessories, but Deitz says aftermarket appearance items also work for the auto maker's least expensive products, such as the '07 Accent 3-door, with a starting price under $11,000.

At its booth, Hyundai shows an Accent transformed by well-known customizer K-Daddyz Kustomz featuring “Iguana Run” and “Amazing Grape” paint colors. It also has Lamborghini-style swing-up doors, nitrous oxide bottles “promising break-neck acceleration” and a monster audio system.

Parents shopping for their child's first car are attracted to the Accent because of its price and safety features, Deitz says, but a wide choice of customization products, such as ground effects kits, also makes the car desirable to a young driver, Deitz says.

K-Daddyz designers were turned loose on Hyundai's conservatively styled new Azera sedan, as well. The car features design elements such as custom side air vents, 20-in. wheels and rear “suicide doors” that swing open from the B pillar.

The design objective, Hyundai says, was to make the Azera look like a 6-figure European sport sedan and make people ask, “Is that a Hyundai?”

Mission accomplished.

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