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Carmakers to bet big on new models

South Korean carmakers are pinning high hopes on new models this year to help defend their home turf from increased competition from foreign brands.

Despite increased car sales, the nation’s five carmakers ― Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, Renault Samsung Motors, GM Korea and Ssangyong Motor ― continued to lose market share in 2014.

Industry watchers predict that foreign carmakers’ sales will exceed a record 220,000 vehicles in 2015, with their combined market share hitting a new high of 15 percent. 
Hyundai’s Avante
Hyundai’s Avante

But Korean carmakers believe that they have a chance to lure back customers, as eight new models are lined up for launches this year.

Hyundai Motor, the nation’s largest carmaker, plans to roll out the fully revamped versions of its top-selling Avante compact and Tucson crossover in April.

The sixth-generation Avante is expected to come with brand new styling and driving features. Along with gasoline and diesel models, the carmaker is considering whether to launch hybrid and full-electric versions.

The new Tucson is also gaining keen attention amid the growing global appetite for compact sport utility vehicles. Like its bigger siblings, the Santa Fe and Sorrento, the car will use more high-strength steel to improve safety.

In July, Kia Motors unveiled the second-generation K5, its best-selling car in the U.S. The car, which shares a platform with the recently-revamped Hyundai Sonata, is expected to undergo a drastic design makeover.

Expectations are building among customers about the Ssangyong Tivoli, which makes its debut on Jan. 13. The compact crossover is the carmaker’s first new car since India’s Mahindra Group took ownership in 2010.

Equipped with distinctive styling and price competitiveness, the Tivoli aims to compete with Renault Samsung’s QM3, the Chevrolet Trax and the Mini Countryman, officials said.

In March, GM Korea will unveil the fourth-generation model of the Chevrolet Spark mini car that makes up almost 40 percent of the company’s sales in the domestic market. The Korean unit of General Motors has led a small car project within the carmaker.

Renault Samsung Motors, whose QM3 crossover was one of the hottest-selling models of 2014, hopes to continue the recent sales momentum with the revamped version of its best-selling SM5 sedan this year.

In the meantime, foreign carmakers will maintain their sales vigor this year, introducing some 100 new cars into the market. New launches include the BMW i8, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, the Audi A1, the Ford Mustang and the Jaguar XE.

“Korean carmakers will face an uphill battle to appeal to young drivers in their 20s and 30s, who are increasingly turning their eyes to foreign-brand cars,” said Park Hong-jae, head of the Korea Automotive Research Institute.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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