Hyundai Sees Growth in Europe

By Gilles Castonguay

MILAN—The forecasts might be for a flat or weaker car market in Europe this year as the sovereign-debt crisis dents consumer confidence, but one of the regional heads of Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. sees nothing but growth for the South Korean manufacturer.

Hyundai has been growing faster than most of its bigger competitors in the region for years with its expanding range of competitively-priced cars, and Allan Rushforth, Hyundai’s chief operating officer for Europe, sees no reason why 2012 should be any different.

“I see opportunity,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “We’re doing well…[and] we don’t see why it can’t continue.

“There are still 13 million cars out there,” he added, referring to the total number sold in the region last year. “People are buying cars…[and] we can get our share of that market.”

In 2011, Hyundai, whose best-selling model is the i30 hatchback, had the second-fastest growth rate in unit sales in Europe among mass-market brands after Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

In the European Union and the European Free Trade Association member countries, the company’s sales grew 11.5% to 398,129 units boosting its market share to 2.9% from 2.6% the previous year, according to figures from ACEA, an industry association in Brussels.

Even its sister company, Kia Motors Corp., in which it holds a nearly 40% stake, did well. Its unit sales grew 12% to 293,960 units, leading to its market share rising to 2.2% from 1.9%. Together, they outsold Toyota Motor Co. by more than 100,000 vehicles.

By contrast, incumbent manufacturers like Fiat SpA and PSA Peugeot-Citröen saw their unit sales tumble by 12% and 8.8%, respectively. In Fiat’s case, industry analysts blame few new models to refresh an aging lineup.

Mr. Rushforth said Hyundai had been winning customers from the likes of Ford Motor Co. and Adam Opel Gmbh of General Motors Co., which is reviewing its options for the money-losing German division. Such is his confidence that Mr. Rushforth still aims to have Hyundai sell 100,000 more vehicles to reach a target of 500,000 by 2013.

“We’ve grown…during some of the most difficult periods for Europe recently,” he said. And “2012 will not be any different than 2011”.

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