There's one big psychological barrier standing between Hyundai Motor America and its goal of becoming a U.S. import heavy hitter: Volks-wagen of America Inc.

Though the Korean auto maker has not explicitly set its sites on passing import-darling VW during this calendar year, executives are fairly confident it can be done. They readily admit outpacing VWA — which sold 355,648 cars in the U.S. for 2001 — would give their operation a major morale boost.

Hyundai sales in 2001 surpassed those of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. in the U.S. The auto maker has targeted sales of 370,000 units for 2002 — up 7% from 2001's record 346,235 — modest growth for a car maker that racked up double-digit gains for the last three years, culminating in 2001's 42% year-on-year growth.

As for passing VWA, a Hyundai official says it is not an expressed goal, but points out that Hyundai, at the end of November 2001, pulled within 4,500 units of doing so. VWA answered with a strong December, leaving a 9,400-unit disparity between the two for the year.