All New Hyundai Elantra - They must be joking!
Hyundai has finally found time to bring the Elantra to Thailand to compete in the all-important C segment. And this should be a good thing. But is the Elantra a compelling option in the C segment? And is Hyundai really serious about the Thai market?
Hyundai has had somewhat of a slow start to their return to the Thai market. You may recall Hyundai pulling the plug on their Thai ambitions in 1997 during the Thai financial crisis, and that the company waited a full 10 years before returning to the Kingdom in 2007.
What is holding Hyundai back?
Well, there is a combination of factors and not least of these is consumer confidence. I suspect 1997 is not long enough ago for the public to have forgotten that Hyundai essentially cut-and-run during the crisis, and it will take a major show of commitment to the local market for folks to return to the brand.
However, Hyundai doesn't seem to be committing a whole lot of anything to the Thai market. First, they brought the outdated Sonata here to compete against the Camry and Accord, assembly was handled through a joint venture and the cars were keenly priced, but dated and lacking any compelling reason to buy them ahead of "safer" options.
The Sonata was backed up with a couple of CBU imports directly from Korea, cars that nobody bought because they were overpriced. To really compete toe-to-toe in any segment Hyundai really needs to be building the cars here, but 5 years on from their return to Thailand, and Hyundai are still trying to sell CBU models.
This can work if you are selling premium cars, but Hyundai desn't make premium cars. The new Sonata is nice to be sure, but when the pricing puts it beside the Volvo S60 on the comparison charts, it is clearly outclassed. Built locally, the Sonata would be priced to compete with its true rivals: the Accord and Camry.
And the story is the same throughout the Hyundai range, limited as it is.
Unless Hyundai is willing to take the plunge and risk a proper investment in Thailand its never likely to make any serious inroads here.
So what about the Elantra?
Hyundai is bringing the Elantra to Thailand in completely built up form from Korea. Yikes! Hyundai will attempt to convince us that the Elantra is a worthy alternative to C segment rivals, namely the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla Altis, Chevrolet Cruze, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Focus, and Mazda 3. They will use their North American car of the year award to help promote the Elantra, and all of this sounds reasonable. But because the Enlatra is built in Korea, straight away the company is at a major disadvantage and will struggle to compete on price with rivals. So let’s look at this first.
The Elantra it available in three trim levels, but all come with the same 150ps, 1.8 litre engine. There is a 1.8E with a six-speed manual transmission, 1.8S with a six-speed automatic, and the range topping 1.8G also with the automatic transmission.
Elantra 1.8 E MT – THB 899,000
Elantra 1.8 S AT – THB 1,088,000
Elantra 1.8 G AT – THB 1,198,000
Pitting this against the Honda Civic as a comparison the Civic 1.8 S MT is THB 754,000 or THB 145,000 cheaper than the Elantra. But the reality is that cost conscious buyers who are likely to be looking at manual options are probably not going to consider THB 899,000 as a reasonable starting point.
But the story is the same no matter where you compare. For example the Civic 1.8 S AT (AS) is THB 839,000. This is still THB 60,000 cheaper than the manual transmission Elantra and a massive THB 249,000 cheaper than the comparable Elantra 1.8 S AT. That's a lot of money.
The story is also similar when you put the Elantra up against similarly equipped competition from Toyota, Chevrolet etc. So the obvious question is: why would anyone buy an Elantra?
Is there even any point in going further here?
You see, while I'm all for choice, and I want to see more options in Thailand, I also believe that there is no point in paying more than you have to just to have something different. Some might argue that there are things about the Elantra that set it apart from the Civic, Focus, 3, Lancer etc, and make it a compelling option. But I am at a loss to see where there is a THB 249,000 difference in value! Hyundai use their 2012 North American Car of the year trophy to promote the Elantra in Thailand, but are they joking?
Do they think the Thai public is ignorant enough to buy into this sort of deception?
For a start the north American version of the Elantra starts at $15,345 in the US! At today’s exchange rate that is THB 474,000! Now, of course that is not fair, the tax system is different in the US, so we can’t do that, but the point is that the Elantra undercuts the price of the Civic and Corolla in the US, and this is one of the reasons it won car of the year, because of the value for money. In contrast the Elantra is costlier here than any of its rivals.
Further, the Thai version of the Elantra has 2 airbags, the US version has 6 as standard. The US version has ESC, TCS, ABS, EBD, BA, Cruise Control, iPod connectivity, satellite radio, and many other features as standard on the base model. In contrast the 1.8 MT Elantra has been stripped down to try to be cost competitive in Thailand.
And finally, one of the major reasons for the acclaim enjoyed by the Elantra in the US is the 5-year warranty. Do we get that here? NO! The Thai model has a bog-standard 3-year/100,000 km warranty to match the competition.
So we are back to where we started: what possible reason would anybody have to buy the Elantra?
If Hyundai build it here, and bring the price down to compete with locally built options then we will take another look. As things stand this is completely pointless.