DETROIT – Hyundai Motor America Inc. CEO John Krafcik is beaming over early Equus sales, as well as those buying the car, the auto maker’s most-expensive model ever offered in the U.S.

"The demand has been overwhelming," he tells Ward's in an interview during the North American International Auto Show here. "We have a lot of deposits, (but) are very much constrained from an early supply standpoint."

The 196 units sold in December, the Equus’ launch month, is about half of Hyundai’s initial inventory for the vehicle, which is being imported from South Korea. Restocking efforts are under way and should be completed by early February.

Hyundai hopes to sell 2,000-3,000 units of the Equus annually, giving it a 5% share of what it considers the premium-luxury segment.

Krafcik says while he was concerned interested Equus buyers might put off their purchase until the 5.0L V-8 engine and 8-speed automatic models go on sale later in the first quarter, he only has heard of one buyer who opted to wait.

Especially encouraging for Hyundai is that two-thirds of Equus units configured on the auto maker’s website have been the more-expensive Ultimate model, which starts at $64,500. The Signature Equus begins at $58,000.

And while demographic data about buyers is meager at this early stage, Krafcik says dealers have told him buyers are younger than expected – late 40s to early 50s – and very wealthy.

One followed a shipment of Equuses to the dealership from his helicopter. "You're kidding me," was Krafcik's reaction upon hearing the story.

Also going over well are Hyundai's unique efforts to sell the car, which include dealers delivering the vehicle to interested customers.

Krafcik gives a lot of the credit to Hyundai's advertising, which last month included spots in high-end print magazines, as well as sponsorship of a Bloomberg TV program featuring Apple Inc.-founder Steve Jobs and Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com