Hyundai Motor sold 850 cars in Japan to the end of October and expects to sell 1,200 units by the end of 2001, the Korea Herald reported, citing company officials.

This falls short of Hyundai’s original yearly target of 2,000 units, but could be seen as an impressive accomplishment in view of Japan’s market circumstances, the officials told the newspaper.

“European automakers have established a strong presence in Japan’s 200,000-units-a-year imported car market. But none of them have achieved annual sales of over 1,000 cars in their inaugural years thus far,” Choi Byung-ha, general manager of Hyundai Motor Japan‘s Sales Planning and Coordination Department, told the Korea Herald.

The newspaper said that Hyundai began its ambitious foray into Japan’s 5.7-million-units-a-year automotive market in January 2001.

“Thanks to aggressive marketing and improved quality, Japanese consumer and dealer sentiment toward Hyundai cars is rapidly improving,” Choi told the paper, revealing an annual sales target of 3,000 units in Japan next year.

Choi told the Korea Herald that Japanese car dealers, as well as consumers, have started to show growing interest in Hyundai, particularly since the local launch of the large-sized XG 300 sedan model at the beginning of the second half of 2001.

“In the early months, we had a lot of difficulties in securing dealer networks in Japan. Thanks to the increased brand awareness, however, Hyundai has so far contracted 40 exclusive dealers.”

The Hyundai Motor Japan executive stressed to the Korea Herald that the ultimate goal for the Japanese market is annual shipments of 500,000 cars. The number of independent Hyundai dealers in Japan will also rise to 60 next year, he said, adding that European car makers have contracts with 250 to 300 dealers on average.

“The introduction of the Hyundai World Car, dubbed TB (Think Basic), scheduled for next September in Japan, is expected to pave the way for another takeoff in Hyundai sales in our neighbouring country,” Choi told the newspaper. At the same time, Hyundai is to launch an intensive marketing campaign targeting Korean-Japanese citizens, starting next year, he added.

The Korea Herald said that the XG300 currently accounts for 60 percent of Hyundai’s Japanese shipments, with the remaining 40 percent filled by Elantra and Santa Fe. Asked about the unexpectedly slow sales of the Santa Fe SUV in Japan, Choi told the newspaper that Japanese motorists still appear unfamiliar with that type of vehicle.

Choi told the Korea Herald that the association of U.S. and European car makers operating in Japan is showing increasing interest in Hyundai, expecting it to help broaden the size of the imported car market in the country.