Launched for the 2015 model year, the seventh Hyundai Sonata was not the avant-garde successor to the 2011-2014 Sonata for which many hoped. The new Sonata, while objectively better in virtually every way, was missing a key ingredient.
For 2018, Hyundai has thoroughly refreshed the seventh-generation Sonata, hoping that a far more aggressive front fascia will draw more eyes. Hyundai went much further than the superficial, however, by stiffening the Sonata’s structure, upgrading to an eight-speed automatic, and including more safety equipment as standard fit.
Yet while Toyota and Honda believe their new Camry and new Accord can ignite the midsize sedan segment in a bid to wage war against a crossover onslaught, Hyundai’s goals for the refreshed 2018 Sonata are far more modest. Much more modest. Más modesto.
Hyundai Motor America’s Sonata product manager told Wards Auto the goal with this refresh is to “maintain our share.”
Hyundai has not been doing so.
Undeniably, one reason Hyundai has lost so much market share in 2017 comes down to the automaker’s decision to finally place less reliance on fleet volume. In 2016, one-quarter of Hyundai’s U.S. sales were going to fleets. Hyundai has reigned in that fleet reliance in the first-half of 2017, allowing fleet sales to tumble 29 percent while benefiting from a 1 percent uptick in retail sales.
Hyundai’s totals have taken a hit as a result. In a market that’s off last year’s record pace by 2 percent, Hyundai sales are down 10 percent. Hyundai’s car volume is down 18 percent. And the Hyundai Sonata has seen its sales tumble 27 percent, a drop of more than 28,000 sales, year over year.
Hyundai’s share of America’s fading midsize category has thus decreased from 9.4 percent in 2016’s first six months to 8.4 percent during the first-half of 2017.
But if Hyundai can just hold off on losing market share to new cars such as the 2018 Toyota Camry and 2018 Honda Accord, the company will have done what it set out to do. Sonata sales fell to a six-year low of 199,416 units in the United States in 2016, the first sub-200,000-sale year since 2010. Hyundai is on track to fall below 150,000 U.S. Sonata sales in 2017 if the revamped 2018 model doesn’t spur demand.
At the Montgomery, Alabama assembly plant where the Sonata, Elantra, and Santa Fe Sport are all built, total Sonata/Elantra production was down 20 percent through the first five months of 2017, according to Automotive News. That decline of 33,000 units made it possible for Hyundai to build 28,049 Santa Fe Sports, which weren’t assembled in Montgomery at this time last year.
America’s midsize sedan sector, meanwhile, is increasingly controlled by the leading candidates, none of which are losing sales as fast as the segment as a whole. In the first-half of 2017, the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima improved their share of the segment to 53 percent from 49 percent one year ago. The next three best sellers — Fusion, Malibu, Sonata — dropped to 29 percent in 2017 from 34 percent in 2016.
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.