January 15, 2013 12:28 am

Asian rivals in drive for US market share

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Three of the biggest Asian carmakers on Monday made clear their intention to renew their challenge to the industry’s US giants when they used the Detroit auto show to unveil new car concepts aimed at important US market segments.

Japan’s Toyota – number three in the US market by sales and last year’s biggest carmaker worldwide by volumes – unveiled a concept for a new compact sedan to replace its successful Corolla model. Japan’s Honda unveiled a concept for a new “urban” sport utility vehicle, while Korea’s Hyundai unveiled a concept for a new luxury sedan to replace its current Genesis model.

The three new concepts suggest, according to analysts, that the Asian manufacturers intend to continue to challenge General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – the long-dominant forces in the US auto industry – on several fronts. Concept cars are mock-ups of likely models produced for testing market reactions.

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, a car information site, said carmakers were keen to improve their US market share because the markets were looking “really healthy” – with the prospect of continued annual sales growth. US car sales for 2012 were 13.5 per cent up on 2011, the fastest growth in decades.

“The way you get more market share is [to] have the best product,” she said.

Matt Stover, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, said Toyota had come through “a tough few years,” having suffered safety scares, followed by severe disruption during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Hyundai was absorbing Toyota’s experiences on the potential risks of rapid growth and trying to “grow into their size”. Honda’s vehicle was likely to be crucial to achieve its ambitious growth targets.

Toyota’s Corolla concept car promises to revitalise a vehicle that it has sold in the US since it entered the world’s largest car market in the 1960s. The company says Corolla’s brand has sold more vehicles than any other car in history.

Hyundai’s focus on the luxury segment reflects how the company has evolved in the US market. The company was initially a provider of cheap, low-end cars with a poor reputation for quality after it entered the US car market in 1986. It now claims to have a high share of the luxury market.

General Motors’ Cadillac and Ford’s Lincoln brands are trying to claw back their luxury market share lost to foreign manufacturers in the last four decades.

Honda has been far more disciplined than other carmakers about selling its vehicles internationally, with minimal modifications between markets. However, US customers increasingly prefer smaller SUVs such as the concept Honda unveiled, as part of a general trend towards smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

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