SEOUL – After a disastrous year in which sales have plunged 40%, Renault Samsung is pinning its hopes on the just-released SM5 Platinum midsize sedan.

The revised model has a carryover drivetrain but fairly substantial body modifications resulting from redesign work performed at Renault Samsung’s studio in Yongin, Gyeonggi province. But it still is recognizable as the SM5 that traditionally has accounted for about 40% of RSM’s total sales.

Launched Nov. 7, the new version delivered 2,200 units in its first week, which gives some support to Renault Samsung CEO Francois Provost’s prediction it will sell more than 50,000 domestically in 2013, compared with 30,000 that are expected to be delivered in 2012.

That’s an increase of roughly 70%, a considerable leap in what the auto maker’s analysts predict will be a tough year. It also is 22% of the domestic market SM5 competes in, where it bumps heads with the popular Hyundai Sonata and Kia K5.

Total Renault Samsung sales (including exports) this year are targeted at just 110,000 units, all produced at the auto maker’s only assembly plant in Busan that has an annual capacity of 300,000. But it might be tough to reach even the less-ambitious goal. The company’s October deliveries plummeted 45% to 11,353 units, compared with year-ago, and were down 40% though the first 10 months.

A projection for next year’s sales is not yet available, but an upturn will be hard to achieve, many analysts believe. “It will be a very tough year in 2013,” spokesman Jason Koh concedes.

“There will be much competition, with a lot of import brands on the domestic market as well,” he says. “I don’t see it as a turnaround year. Maybe 2014 will be our turning point.”

Running through the model lineup, the revamped SM5 seems Renault Samsung’s only hope for better days in the short term. The auto maker had expected a rebound on sales of both the newly launched SM5 Platinum and restyled SM3, which hit the market in September.

But Koh says the SM3 has been “a bit disappointing.” The refreshed car is delivering 1,500 units monthly, exactly the same rate as the previous version. The body modifications and driveline improvements have not resulted in an upward trend.

Koh admits the design changes are not very extensive or innovative, limited mostly to a new grille and bumper. The big change is under the hood, where the H4M 1.6L engine was modified to improve fuel economy.

By combining it with a continuously variable transmission imported from Nissan in Japan, the new SM3 delivers 41 mpg (5.7 L/100 km), compared with 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) previously, for a 17% improvement.

Koh says the SM3 gets the best fuel economy in its segment and even is better than some minicars such as the Kia Morning. However, near-disaster struck when Kia launched its all-new K3, a hot competitor, just 17 days after the new SM3. The K3 is a highly styled all-new vehicle.

Provost says the new SM3 will show a greatly improved sales performance over the longer term, once its segment-leading fuel economy is better understood by consumers.

“We focused on fuel economy for the new SM3 and it will appeal to economy-minded buyers who are conscious of high fuel prices yet want a smart-looking, high-quality vehicle,” Koh says. Provost expects positive results to start showing within a period of six months.

However, the SM7 flagship fullsize luxury sedan is another story, with sales tumbling to unacceptably low levels since its introduction in August 2011. In its first two months, the car delivered 4,400 units. But after that, volumes declined steadily until hitting a baseline of just 250 vehicles a month.

When the SM7 was introduced at the Seoul auto show in 2011, it received sensational media reviews and Korean consumer interest was high. But analysts say during styling modifications made to change the show car to a production-ready vehicle, much of the design flair was lost.

Fuel consumption is not a strong point for the SM7 either. The 2.5L gasoline version achieves 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) and the 3.5L is rated at 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km).

The QM5 SUV, introduced in 2007 and modified last year, also is a sluggish performer. From the outset it has not done well, selling just 200 units monthly. More than 90% of the models are sold with a 2.0L diesel engine.

However, the auto maker does have high expectations for its all-new Captur cross/utility vehicle that launches in second-half 2013 to compete against the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson.

Renault Samsung also will bring to market the SM3 Z.E. plug-in electric vehicle, currently undergoing testing in government fleets.

Additionally, a memorandum of understanding has just been signed between the auto maker and Posco, Korea’s largest steel maker that brings the company on board as the first supplier to participate in the early vendor involvement program for development of the next-generation Nissan Rogue small CUV.

The Rogue will be produced for Nissan at Renault Samsung’s Busan plant in Korea and exported to North America. It requires specialty steel to meet the auto maker’s impact and design requirements.

The flexible line at the Busan facility currently handles four models that have different volume requirements. The Captur and Rogue can be added with little modification within the plant because of this high level of flexibility. It is considered one of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world.

After the impact of the 1997 Asian financial meltdown sent car sales into the basement, the factory equipment at Busan was operated regularly as a matter of continuous maintenance, to ensure none of it suffered from being dormant during the doldrums.

The big plant, which produces its own engines, is waiting to roar back again and achieve its 300,000-unit annual capacity. In its last good year of 2010, full capacity nearly was achieved when production hit more than 270,000 units.

The Nissan Rogue alone will take up some 80,000 units, according to the early plans. So what's needed, Renault Samsung officials say, is to double current sales to more than 200,000 units annually. And that’s a very tall order.