Hyundai Motor America’s new President and CEO John Krafcik says the “timing was right” to take the company helm, while also conceding his former role as vice president-product development and strategic planning, was “the perfect job.”

HMA announced Krafcik’s promotion Monday.

“I’ve been here five years, and I’ve really enjoyed the work on the product side,” Krafcik tells Ward’s in a phone interview. “I loved that job, (but) the company offered me this new opportunity. It was hard to say no.”

Under Krafcik’s leadership, Hyundai has rolled out a slew of new models in the U.S., starting in fall 2004 through this year, including the all-new near-luxury Genesis sedan.

Now, with another round of models “in the oven and baking,” Krafcik says he’s ready for his new challenge and hopes to revive Hyundai’s sales, despite the country’s depressed vehicle market.

The Korean auto maker, which has been trying to break the half-million-unit barrier for the last several years, likely will see 2008 sales finish at “somewhere above 400,000, somewhere below 420,000,” Krafcik says.

Hyundai sales were down 7.8% through the year’s first 10 months, to 358,484 units, Ward’s data shows.

“I’m out there listening to dealers right now,” Krafcik says. “We understand if we can get through this difficult time, when the economy gets better, we’ll have an even stronger dealer network.”

One of the vehicles Hyundai is counting on to drive customers to showrooms is a new, lower-priced version of the Accent subcompact, which is on sale now.

Beginning at $9,970, the base Accent offers all the same features as before but has been “repositioned” at a lower price, Krafcik says. The model will compete against Nissan North America Inc.’s new base Versa sedan, which begins at $9,900.

Hyundai also intends to tout in advertisements a recent award by J.D. Power & Associates for the Accent’s long-term dependability, Krafcik says, noting the auto maker has been a recipient of initial quality kudos from J.D. Power before, but “it’s tougher to get the higher-mileage” trophies.

Meanwhile, Hyundai is offering 0% financing for 36 months on its ’08 Veracruz, Santa Fe and Tucson cross/utility vehicles, Elantra compact car, Entourage minivan and Accent subcompact. The offer also applies to the ’09 Sonata sedan.

In lieu of special financing, customers can opt to get $1,000-$4,000 cash back on the models. Buyers selecting the Santa Fe or Sonata can combine both offers. The deals expire Dec. 1.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com