Five Minutes with Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcik

Automobile Staff
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Having announced a need for more U.S. production capacity, thrown down a challenge to hit 50 mpg, and finalized plans to introduce the 2012 Equus sedan -- all in August alone -- Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcik is among the busiest executives in the automotive industry.

We were fortunate to nab a few minutes from his busy schedule to receive an update on Hyundai's present and future in North America.

Hitting the 50 mpg target by 2025

On Wednesday, Krafcik surprised an audience of industry leaders by announcing a target of 50 mpg across the Hyundai lineup by 2025. This figure surpasses the government-encouraged CAFE target of 35.5 by 2016. Further, Krafcik stressed that Hyundai will hit the target without the use of diesel engines, known for their efficiency and ability to stretch fuel economy.

"Instead, we're going to apply diesel-like technology to gasoline engines," Krafcik said. "We already have direct-injection [engines]. We can hit the target without diesels." Instead, Hyundai's tactic to meet the high target will arrive in the form of turbocharged, direct-injected, and hybrid solutions.

Key to previewing the strategy, Krafcik said, is the 2012 Elantra, set to debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late November. Without revealing much detail, he alluded to fuel economy figures that exceed the current Elantra's, but admitted the challenge of eking out more mileage from already-efficient engines. Based on the 2011 Sonata's 9-percent jump in highway mpg, we could see nearly 40 highway mpg in the revised Elantrta, pushing closer to the 2025 target.

"Each mpg only gets more expensive from here," Krafcik said.

Veloster

Krafcik was tight-lipped on details about Hyundai's upcoming Veloster sports coupe -- er, hatchback? -- but assured us it was "incredible." It will carry on Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design theme, according to Krafcik, and will feature an ultraefficient 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine producing 140 horsepower. Though the Veloster will ultimately compete with conventional coupes, such as the Scion tC, Hyundai's CEO seemed curious to see how it will compete against Honda's CR-Z hybrid hatchback.

"I haven't driven [a CR-Z] yet," he confessed. "But the [Veloster] will deliver without being a hybrid."

Krafcik also hinted that the Veloster will feature a noteworthy set of doors, rumored to include a side-access door for an asymmetrical profile.

On customer satisfaction

Executive director of corporate communications Chris Hosford confirmed that sales of the 2011 Sonata are beating even Hyundai's internal expectations.

"Last month, we sold within 15 cars of what the factory produced," Hosford said. "Fifteen."

In the first seven months of 2010, Hyundai has sold 45 percent more Sonatas year-over-year. At that rate, sales of the Sonata could rise to 175,000, comfortably planting it among the likes of the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion, firm contenders for third place in midsize sedans.

The need to keep up with increased demand is both good and bad news for the U.S. arm of the South Korean automaker, but Krafcik's team shows no signs of backing down.

What do you think? Is Hyundai moving in the right direction? Let us know in the comments section.

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