Hyundai Equus might have Phaeton’s fate in the US, or might be the new Lexus

Article by Christian Andrei, on September 14, 2010

All eyes are on how Hyundai’s Equus sedan fares in the luxury car segment and how it compares to the launching of the Toyota's Lexus LS 400 in 1989 and Volkswagen's Phaeton experiment in 2003. The Equus sedan, which is priced below $60,000 in the US, is being matched up against the models produced by these volume brands that were considered risky at the time.

On many accounts, the Equus sedan appears to be better groomed than these two models. Hyundai’s volume goals for the Equus are modest. The company plans on boosting promotion at its mass-market dealerships for the big luxury sedan.

Notably, there isn’t as much of a gap between the Equus and Hyundai's Genesis (which has soaring sales) than the Phaeton and the VW Passat or between the LS 400 and Toyota's range-topping Cressida sedan back in 1989.

The Equus sedan is meant to rival the Lexus, Mercedes and BMW flagships. The Equus is powered by a 4.6-liter V8 engine and it offers a splendid ride and precise steering in "sport" mode. Handling the interior controls is a delight with its soft-touch tactile response and if that still doesn’t sway the luxury-car customer, it’s likely that its interior’s generous amount of hides would. There’s no doubt that the model is meant to impress.

But what analysts and potential customers alike are saying is that the success of this model depends mainly on whether the US market is willing to look beyond its reputation of having sold low-quality cheap cars only a decade ago. Jack Fitzgerald, a multiline dealer in Rockville, Md., is convinced that the brand is in itself a disadvantage, explaining that it isn’t fashionable to drive a Hyundai, “but it's getting there."

Fitzgerald has personally witnessed how the Phaeton failed at his VW store but he is poised to sel the Equus at his Hyundai outlet. Insiders from Hyundai admit that they are worried that offering a $60,000 car may be too much of a gamble and that they shouldn’t have rushed it.

Sources say that Hyundai considered creating a separate luxury channel for the car and that there were some within the US sales arm who opposed the release of the Equus. It can be recalled though that a group within Toyota wasn’t optimistic about the Lexus either, and it’s now a tremendous success. [via autonews - sub. required]

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