Hyundai to challenge Germans with luxury car aimed at European diplomats

LONDON Tue Feb 25, 2014 11:05am EST

LONDON Feb 25 (Reuters) - South Korean carmaker Hyundai will try to lure away high-end European buyers including diplomats from their comfort zone of German luxury models with a new, pricier Genesis car to be launched next month.

The traditionally mass-market producer, which has focused on the value end of the market, said on Tuesday it would launch its latest Genesis sedan in Europe at the Geneva International Motor Show next week, eying German premium rivals.

Several car manufacturers including BMW, Audi and Daimler dominate the premium market in countries such as Britain where German brands hold a more than 80 percent share of the top-end market.

Hyundai Europe Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Allan Rushforth gave no price for the new model, but said only a fairly small number of vehicles would be marketed, with a focus on niche buyers.

"We'll be selling, I guess, less than 1,000 of these cars every year at very targeted and specific customers," he said, and the focus would be on "people who have got some familiarity with us as a brand, and not least the diplomatic community."

He told journalists in London that the company, which said on Tuesday it had reached 6 million European sales since it began operating in the region in 1977, aimed to increase its visibility by getting cars on Europe's streets.

Hyundai, which aims to increase its European market share from 3.4 to 5 percent by 2020, has sought to boost its brand image by making a foray into the premium market.

"There's a non-market benefit to having Genesis in Europe... to the home market in Korea and to the U.S market where frankly just having the vehicle alongside some of the German premium players gives it a level of prestige," he said.

Hyundai launched the sleek revamped version of its high-end Genesis sedan model to its South Korean home and U.S. markets in November and said then it expected to sell 32,000 models at home and 30,000 vehicles overseas.

The manufacturer, which has European production plants in the Czech Republic and Turkey, saw European sales fall 5.5 percent in January, and said earlier this month it would not pursue market share gains at any cost.

Europe's car industry had endured a six-year slump, with sales falling to their lowest level for around 20 years as austerity-hit consumers cut back on expensive purchases, but it has recently returned to growth.

Some manufacturers had been forced to heavily discount their cars, many firms tempted customers with finance packages and Hyundai even paid back 2,250 euros to some of its Spanish customers after running a "Spain scores, you win" campaign during the Confederation Cup football tournament last year. (Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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