Pony up $60,000 and you too can have 429 equuses (equi?) under the hood

Pony up $60,000 and you too can have 429 equuses (equi?) under the hood

Laugh no longer at Hyundai's ambition to tackle Lexus: a car that was never designed for the US market, the glitzy Equus sedan, has turned in some strong sales numbers for 2011.

Remember, this huge sedan is sold as a Hyundai and was intended to be a big, high-margin luxo-barge for South Korea, China's major cities and certain states in the Persian Gulf. Hyundai Motor Europe imports a handful of cars but Hyundai Motor America (HMA) is braver, having decided to put the big sedan into showrooms, stand back, and see what happens. The result was 3,193 sales, a number that not so long ago would have shamed the Audi A8, also once a gatecrasher at the LS, S-Class and 7 Series invitation-only party.

So how does the Equus compare to the A8? Worryingly for Audi of America, after 16 years and three generations of brand-building for its four-door flagship, it managed a combined 5,700 sales of its more expensive range-topping sedan series (A8 and S8, standard and long-wheelbase). The Lexus LS range, which also comes with the popular option of a stretched wheelbase as well as two powertrains, managed 9,568 sales.

Just imagine how well the next generation Equus might sell, given some heavy input from HMA, especially when it comes to styling. But way before then, it's easy to see the model piling on even greater success in the US market and upsetting the status quo: the long wheelbase car is surely on the way for the 2013 model year, given the performance of the existing sole bodystyle. And there's a 4.0-litre 'Tau' V8 in the pipeline to supplement the 5.0-litre unit that HMA gave its range topper for the 2012 model year.

Daimler and Toyota should also take further notice, even though they might be tempted to laugh off the Equus in the face of their forthcoming next generation S-Class and LS/LC sedans and coupes respectively. Will these cars have a transmission to rival Hyundai's own ten-speed automatic gearbox? This should debut in a facelifted model set for release in late 2012. Luxury buyers the world over are impressed by and demand technology firsts - could the next big premium brand sedans' high-tech gadgets be trumped by Hyundai trumpeting an amazing new transmission?

I used to most admire Honda of all vehicle manufacturers but I am starting to think that the company with the cleverest strategy for steady, ever-upwards thinking is now Korean. Hyundai is clearly now an ever more unsettling rival for the biggest manufacturers - unlike Toyota, VW Group and GM, every move it and Kia Motors have made in the last two years has been a considered one that has yielded big results - e.g. the Sonata went from forgettable to 200,000 US sales in 2011 and rising, Genesis sales are also breaking records and the forthcoming Kia K9/Veredus will be a high-priced hit if last year's acclaimed GT concept was anything to go by.

While the major premium brands have been watching one another, they have become blind to the reinvention of Hyundai as a challenger that will keep on pushing up towards their pricing. The $100,000 Korean car is likely in the planning stages in Seoul right now.

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