OAK BROOK, IL – After only a few months in showrooms, the next-generation ’15 Hyundai Sonata sedan that has undergone a bumper-to-bumper upgrade is earning positive feedback from dealers, says Mike O’Brien, Hyundai vice president-corporate and product planning.

But it’s still too early to determine long-term consumer trends, such as who is buying – current owners or conquests from competitive makes – and whether they’re trading in a Hyundai or a rival model, O’Brien tells WardsAuto after previewing the ’15 Sonata for the Midwest Automotive Media Assn. here.

“We have limited inventories” of the ’15 model, he says. “Sonata is only available now with the 2.4L 4-cyl., and (we) won’t have the 2.0L turbo 4-cyl. for a few more weeks and won’t have the (all-new) 1.6L 4-cyl. ECO version until August or September.”

As with the last-generation Sonata, Hyundai offers no V-6.

Toyota sells 18% of Camry models and Honda sells 21% of its Accords with a V-6, O'Brien says. But raise the hood in the roughly 80% of Camry and Accord cars sold with 4-bangers, “and what you see is lots of big, wasted space without the V-6,” he says. “We put a 4-cyl. in Sonata and took that wasted space and put it inside the cabin where it would be better used.”

Hyundai will continue to offer a Sonata hybrid, but a new version of the powertrain will not appear until next year.

While sporting a new look, some say Sonata styling for 2015 is more conservative and perhaps targeted at an older demographic.

“There's a couple ways to answer that,” O’Brien replies. “The feedback we get is that the car looks conservative when you see it in pictures but looks better in person. The design focus of the new car is more premium styling.

“But we have SE trim for those who want a sophisticated, more conservative look and we have a sport version with rocker-panel skirts for those who want a more aggressive and sportier look. By having different versions we feel we have more reach among more consumers.”

Marketing another new Hyundai model, the Tucson hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, is proving somewhat more challenging, O’Brien says.

Hyundai leases the CUV through three dealerships in Southern California for $499 a month and offers free fuel. While the freebie has resulted in lots of hand-raisers interested in the car, which neither consumes petroleum nor creates exhaust emissions, finding the fuel remains problematic.

“Let’s put it this way, the hydrogen fuel-cell Tucson now is about where the Ford Model T was in 1915, when there were only a few places to get gas,” O’Brien says. “There are now only nine hydrogen fuel-cell stations in California, so sales are limited by the number of hydrogen pumps.

“The hydrogen car does everything a gas-powered car can do in any size of vehicle, but the dealer network won't expand and the availability of FCV vehicles won’t expand until the number of stations pumping hydrogen expands,” he says. “We hope the state adds three more hydrogen stations in the Bay Area of California next year.”

Hyundai has no specific plan to offer FCV vehicles outside California until more refueling stations are added.

“I suspect the Northeast Corridor of the U.S., where states have adopted the same emission regulations as California, would be next for it,” O’Brien says. “New York would be a candidate, but there is no timetable.”

Elsewhere on the technology front, the executive says Hyundai gradually will transition toward greater use of aluminum to make its vehicles lighter ahead of tightening CAFE fuel-economy standards.

“We have made more effort to lighten the weight of our vehicles using the lighter-weight, high- strength steel we produce,” O-Brien says. “We also have used aluminum, such as the aluminum fenders and suspension components in our newest Genesis sedan in order to bring weight down. 

“Value is important and high-strength steel is a good value today and helps save some weight. We will move to aluminum to save weight in a vehicle, but it will be done on a one-by- one, vehicle-by-vehicle basis – when and where we need it.”