In an effort to gear its vehicles more toward the U.S. market, Hyundai Motor America (HMA) plans to open a research and development center in Irvine, CA, which will consolidate design, engineering and certification operations in one facility.

The center also will give HMA increased responsibility in the development of products intended for the North American market — which represents 40% of Hyundai's total export orders — as part of a push to localize as much of the R&D process as possible.

One order of business for North American R&D operations will most likely be a sport/utility vehicle to be shown at the 2002 Chicago auto show, one size larger than the Santa Fe cross/utility vehicle. However, it will not be based on the Terracan SUV Hyundai builds for other markets. “It doesn't move the brand forward,” says a Hyundai official, of the rejection of the Terracan.

HMA also turned down a version of subsidiary Kia Motor Corp.'s Sedona minivan, saying it would prefer a larger and more refined minivan along the lines of the Honda Odyssey or Dodge Grand Caravan.

This year Hyundai plans to best its sales record, set in 1987 at 263,610, with projected sales in 2001 of 320,000, a 31% increase over last year.