Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – With the i30 wagon already due in the U.S., Hyundai Motor America is considering bringing the global C-car’s hatchback variant as well.

John Krafcik, vice president-product development and strategic planning, tells Ward’s the decision depends on how well the U.S. 5-door compact segment takes hold.

“We’ll watch (General Motor Corp.’s) Saturn and see how they do with the Astra,” he says on the sidelines of the Chicago auto show here.

“I hope (hatchbacks) succeed, because I just think they’re terrific. And there’s this whole interesting subset now with the Astra 5-door, Elantra Touring and Mazda3, which is really the standard setter – it’s a great car.”

Krafcik says much of the Elantra Touring’s “functional” characteristics are based on the Mazda3 hatch, with the exception of the Mazda’s noise, vibration and harshness levels, which he finds too high for comfort.

If HMA does bring the i30 5-door to the U.S., it will be sold as an Elantra variant, joining the 4-door sedan, and not as a separate nameplate.

The Elantra Touring will go on sale in the U.S. late this year or early next year, HMA says.

Krafcik suggests the sudden proliferation of hatchbacks is one reason for the drop in minivans sales, and even Hyundai’s Entourage may have limited shelf life. The model’s sales volume is small compared with its Kia Sedona sibling and segment-leading Honda Odyssey.

Hyundai from the beginning was uncertain about adding the Entourage to its lineup, canceling and then reinstating the vehicle in its product plans.

The Entourage “seemed right at the time,” Krafick says of the minivan, which went on sale in 2006, noting the final decision was spurred on by climbing gas prices.

“We thought we could capture folks coming out of fullsize SUVs and going to more fuel-efficient vehicles, but the whole minivan segment just seems to be caving in,” he adds, noting even the Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are struggling right now.

A final decision on Entourage’s future hasn’t been made yet, Krafick says. HMA is “exploring stuff around that space.”

Three years ago in Chicago, Hyundai showed a minivan-esque cross/utility vehicle called the Portico, which had a hybrid-electric all-wheel-drive system. However, the auto maker now declines to discuss a future production version.

Meanwhile, Krafcik says parent Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.’s research and development team has begun work in South Korea on a third-generation fuel-cell vehicle, which should be available within the next 10 years.

The model initially will be added to test fleets. Hyundai’s second-generation fuel-cell system currently is being tested in the Tucson CUV.

In other news, J.E. (Jason) Kim is named HMA president and CEO, replacing Steve Wilhite, who left the company last year.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com