Hyundai says it will not defend Europe market share at all costs

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FRANKFURT -- Hyundai is targeting sales gains in Europe next year, but will not seek to maintain its market share at all costs, said the brand's chief operating officer for the region, Allan Rushforth.

European sales growth will be limited as Hyundai's strategy emphasizes gaining repeat business, Rushforth said.

"We used to be a conquest brand," with most customers being first-time buyers, he said. "We will shift focus to retain business," especially by expanding vehicle financing that encourages customers to return.

Hyundai hopes to increase sales in line with a forecast 3 percent recovery in growth in the European market next year, Rushforth said.

"[This year] was a year of transition for our brand," with investments in production and other operations now "starting to deliver positive results," he said. "Our primary aim is to continue enhancing the quality of our operations, even if it means we are not able to sustain our market share."

Rushforth said the European car market will remain a "competitive environment in the months to come."

Cautious approach

Hyundai's cautious approach to European expansion comes only days after U.S. rival General Motors said it will drop the Chevrolet brand in Europe by the end of 2015.

"For Hyundai to be a top global brand we have to be a top European brand. We have become a European carmaker. In the future we are even more committed to Europe," Hyundai Europe President Byung Kwon Rim said.

Hyundai's Rushforth: Market "challenging."

Hyundai expects a new version of the i10 minicar built in Turkey to help boost sales in 2014. The i10, which is equipped with a more spacious interior and tighter suspension than its predecessor, entered showrooms in November after making its debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September.

The brand may also offer as many as 1,000 of the new-generation Genesis sedan in the region next year, Rushforth said. The rear-wheel-drive car is Hyundai's second most-expensive vehicle, and is aimed at the BMW 5 series and Mercedes-Benz E class.

Hyundai said in October that it plans to launch its new Genesis large sedan in Europe next year, challenging BMW, Mercedes and Audi on their home turf.

5% share target

Hyundai plans 22 new or updated models by 2017 to achieve a 5 percent European market share by the end of the decade.

Hyundai brand sales in the EU and EFTA markets fell 2 percent in the first 10 months to 360,860 vehicles in a market down 3 percent, according to industry association ACEA. Despite the decline, the brand's market share rose by a tenth of a percentage point to 3.5 percent over the 10-month period.

The carmaker plans to maintain its market share in Europe at 3.5 percent in 2014, Rushforth said on Tuesday at a press conference on the outskirts of Frankfurt. Based on company projections for 2013, that would be the third year in a row at that level.

Hyundai estimates that industrywide sales in the region will rise about 3 percent next year.

Starting in 2017, 90 percent of Hyundai's cars for sale in Europe will be built in the region and about 70 percent of its components will be sourced from Europe.

Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report

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