Hyundai Unwraps China-Only Concept Car

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Ahn Young-Joon

Hyundai Motors unveiled a new concept car it made only for China at the Shanghai auto show on Saturday, and plans to launch the model late this year into a market that is replacing the United States and Europe as a major growth driver for the South Korean firm and its affiliate Kia Motors.

The Mistra model is larger than Hyundai's Elantra compact but smaller than its Sonata mid-sized sedan, a spokesman for the company said.

Reuters reported last July that Hyundai was preparing its China-only model, tapping into a growing number of the country's middle-class who want affordability, but also the space and upscale feel of a mid-size vehicle.

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A person with direct knowledge of the new model said then that it had been designed to compete with Nissan Motor's Sylphy, which the Japanese automaker successfully developed from its smaller Tiida model.

The Mistra concept is "a strategic model for China developed to secure a clear position in the mid-sized premium market in China and a car which reflected the needs and preference of Chinese customers from the development stage," Hyundai said in a statement.

Hyundai's China sales jumped 41 percent to a record 260,716 in January-March, boosted by a third Chinese plant that began production late last year and by a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo that battered sales of Japanese rivals.

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Kia's first-quarter China sales rose 26 percent to 137,567 vehicles.

Hyundai has said it aims to increase its China sales by more than 13 percent to 970,000 vehicles this year, though analysts see the company topping 1 million.

Kia aims to raise its China sales by 4 percent to 500,000 this year.

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Hyundai, which with Kia ranks fifth in global sales, outperformed the industry in the United States and Europe after the global financial crisis, but lagged rivals in China. This year, however, the South Korean firm is seen underperforming in the U.S. and Europe, while growing faster than the market in China, analysts forecast.

In China, Hyundai has a partnership with state-owned BAIC Group, while Kia has a tie-up with Dongfeng Motors and Jiangsu Yueda Investment.