- The Hyundai Sonata sedan wields considerable influence on styling in the highly competitive midsize-sedan segment.
- The 2015 Chrysler 200's styling took some of its inspiration from Sonata.
- The Sonata's premium design rolled into dealerships in 2010 and was "a game changer," said Jeremy Acevedo, supervisor for pricing and industry analysis at Edmunds.
DETROIT — The Hyundai Sonata sedan wields considerable influence on styling in the highly competitive midsize-sedan segment.
The Sonata's premium design rolled into dealerships in 2010 and was "a game changer," said Jeremy Acevedo, supervisor for pricing and industry analysis at Edmunds.
"Sonata made this loud and very clear statement that midsize (car) shoppers are motivated by styling," Acevedo said.
Until the car's debut, "it was a fairly ho-hum segment that was motivated by practicality and functionality," he said. "You got to give Hyundai credit for shaking things up," prompting competitors to give their models an upmarket appearance.
The redesigned car transformed Sonata from a minor player into a head-turner. The car attracted buyers who probably had never seen the inside of a Hyundai dealership. Some members of the automotive media suggested a few design cues were borrowed from Mercedes-Benz. Hyundai called its design language fluidic sculpture, which included a bit of bling and just the right amount of chrome.
Sales skyrocketed and the Sonata became Hyundai's halo car.
"It changed the brand which was synonymous with value, and rebranded it as this really aggressive, cutting-edge (automaker) with very distinctive designs," Acevedo said.
And, it caught the attention of competitors.
"The Sonata really went from something that was kind of a vanilla car to something that all of a sudden was pretty special," said Mark Hall, who is responsible for the exterior design of the 2015 Chrysler 200. "It was really taking that segment by storm."
The midsize car segment is the most competitive segment in the United States. Among the vehicles in that segment are the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat. Camry has been the top-selling model in that segment for the past 12 years and has sold over 400,000 in each of the past two years. It is also the No. 1 selling midsize car for the January-April period this year.
As the result of Sonata's premium look, sales peaked in 2012 at about 230,000, up from 120,000 in 2009 for the car's previous design language. Last year nearly 204,000 Sonatas were sold.
"Our engineers have put a lot of premium-ness in our cars," Hyundai's Michael O'Brien told Edmunds. O'Brien is vice president of product and corporate planning at Hyundai Motor America.
"For example, other body engineers have said that chrome strip we have along the (Sonata's) hood line is very, very expensive and difficult to manufacture, yet we did it," O'Brien said. "The way we integrated the door handles into the body side character was very expensive and difficult to do, but we did it."
O'Brien said other several factors contributed to the Sonata's sales success, such as the car's large interior, powerful four-cylinder engine, good fuel economy and "tremendous value proposition. So there were a lot of things that gave us a leg up."
Acevedo said the Sonata has "been a boon for midsize (car) shoppers and has fueled this heightened level of competition in this segment from people like Chrysler."
Hall said the Sonata and Optima caught the attention of Chrysler's designers years ago as the company was beginning the design for the 2015 200.
"The Optima followed on (Sonata's) tails, and it had a unique flavor to it, a different personality," Hall told Edmunds. "Both of those vehicles kind of came out of nowhere and were doing very well. We knew that the (200's) style, design was going to have to be a pretty important part of the vehicle."
Hall touts the new 200's premium appearance and describes the exterior styling as sporty and athletic- looking. The design direction is aimed at attracting younger buyers. Today's 200 buyer is in their mid-50s, Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau said. The goal is mid-30s.
The 200's design is very different from some of Chrysler's recent offerings, Hall said.
"It has this very dramatic profile," he said. "If you look at the body itself, it is very simple but also very sculptural. We figured we would have to do something different if we were going to get noticed and have people come and take a second look."
Chrysler hopes to surpass last year's 200 sales, which reached a little over 122,000.
Edmunds says: As car shoppers know, success or failure in the showroom is usually measured by design, design, design.