LAS VEGAS – Hyundai is confident it will hit or even surpass 600,000 sales in the U.S. this year, largely due to the new ’12 Accent subcompact, on sale now.

The Korean brand passed the half million-unit mark last year, with 538,228 deliveries.

"We have more potential" with the new Accent , compared with the the outgoing generation, Mike O'Brien, vice president-corporate and product planning for Hyundai Motor America, tells Ward's during a media event here for the car.

"It's a better product (and) will have some first-to-market features that will draw people into our stores," he adds.

The new model includes a segment-first 1.6L 4-cyl. direct-injected gasoline engine mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.

Hyundai has a sizable chunk of available production capacity for the ’12 Accent at its Ulsan, South Korea, plant, allowing for the generous U.S. sales target.

The last model saw poor sales, leaving unused capacity, O'Brien says.

Deliveries of the current Accent, introduced in 2005, have slowed in recent years as more competitors joined the segment and the car aged.

HMA sold 51,975 Accents in the U.S. in 2010, Ward's data shows, tumbling 32.7% from 2009.

The car’s 20,406 deliveries this year through May were far behind the segment-leading Nissan Versa with 41,541.

Officials expect the ’12 Accent to surpass 2010 sales but decline to specify their goal.

Other factors that will help the auto maker meet its annual sales target include shortening build times for the hot-selling Elantra compact and Sonata midsize sedans, supplies of which continue to trail demand.

Elantra deliveries soared 121.6% in May from year-ago, while the Sonata – including turbo and hybrid variants – was up 16.3%.

HMA CEO John Krafcik told Ward's last month Hyundai was improving availability of the Elantra by diverting units originally intended for fleets to retail customers.

The Elantra, in the U.S. in May, averaged only eight days on dealer lots before it sells, compared with the Ford Focus (25) and Honda Civic (40), J.D. Power & Associates data shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com