South Korean Carmaker Claims US Import Record
DETROIT (AP) _ The South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Co. claimed Thursday it had broken the U.S. sales record for a first-year importer.
Hyundai said it sold 48,531 subcompact Excel cars from the model’s introduction in February through Thursday, and it was certain to surpass its 1986 sales target of 100,000.
The old record was unclear. Hyundai said it was established at 48,148 in 1958 by the French carmaker Renault.
However, Renault listed a figure of 48,612 for that year and various trade publications show registration of Renault cars throughout the 1950s, an indication that Renault sales began years earlier. The discrepancies couldn’t be resolved immediately.
The Hyundai figures are expected to dwarf those of other importers because of the company’s fast start. Even high-volume importers such Volkswagen AG, whose legendary Beetle dominated small-car sales in the United States for a generation, started slow in the early years.
VW said it sold two Beetles in 1949, its first year in the United States, and 328 in 1950. Beetle sales didn’t go above 48,000 until 1956.
The apparent top first-year seller among the Japanese is Mitsubishi Motors Corp. with 32,755 sales of cars sold under its name in 1983. Those don’t count imported Mitsubishi cars sold under the Dodge and Plymouth names by Chrysler Corp.
The Hyundai Excel, sold in sedan and hatchback models, starts at $4,995. The first 4,000 Excels sold here were recalled in March for missing or improperly installed cotter pins in the brake assembly, which could lead to total brake loss.
Ted Kade, spokesman for the import subsidiary Hyundai Motor America in Garden Grove, Calif., said the early discovery of the problem and the quick recall apparently kept the recall from harming the new company’s credibility.
Hyundai plans 200,000 U.S. sales in 1987, Kade said.