* Hybrid version of popular Sonata sedan rolled out in S.Korea this mth
* Hyundai to launch plug-in hybrid to challenge Toyota Prius in 2013 -official (Add details, background)
SEOUL, May 24 (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor said on Tuesday that it aimed to sell 11,000 units of its first gasoline-electric hybrid model, the Sonata Hybrid, in South Korea this year, as rising gasoline prices stoke demand for fuel-sipping cars.
The move comes as Japanese rival Toyota Motor suffers from tight supplies of popular models such as the Prius hybrid after Japan’s March 11 earthquake disrupted production.
“The timing is appropriate for the launch of the Sonata Hybrid as Toyota is suffering from supply shortages of the Prius and other small, fuel-efficient models,” Ko Tae-bong, an analyst at IBK Securities, said.
“Hyundai entered the hybrid market belatedly, but it is catching up quickly.”
Hyundai Motor has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, but has been slow in tapping the electric car market, focusing instead on fuel-efficient gasoline models.
It launched the hybrid version of the popular mid-sized Sonata sedan in South Korea early this month and in the the U.S. market in January.
“We aim to sell more than 11,000 Sonata Hybrids this year and 18,000 units annually in South Korea,” Sean Kim, senior vice president and head of Hyundai’s domestic marketing group, told reporters.
With governments tightening environmental and fuel economy standards, Toyota competitors are turning up the heat with new technologies including battery electric cars and “range extenders” such as General Motors’s Volt.
Hyundai will also roll out a plug-in hybrid to challenge Toyota’s Prius in 2013, a company official said.
“We plan to launch a plug-in hybrid model which is in the same segment as the Prius in 2013,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to talk to the media.
Hyundai Motor unveiled its first full-electric model, the BlueOn, last year, but it is produced for government use. Affiliate Kia Motors said it plans to roll out its first pure-electric vehicle based on upcoming cross utility vehicles in December this year. [ID:nTOE68D09B]
Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Jonathan Hopfner