Hyundai Motor America (HMA) will introduce the Entourage minivan in the US in spring 2006.

The Entourage will later be joined by two other new vehicles with six- and seven-passenger seating – an innovative six- passenger ‘crossover’, and a seven-passenger unibody SUV – giving the Korean car maker a substantially increased presence in these market segments.

The company has decided to resurrect its original plan to introduce the minivan because of demand changes in the US. It has also increased the level of product differentiation (from KIA‘s upcoming new Sedona/Carnival) to make the new model a better fit in its expanding lineup.

“After we locked in our large crossover and upper-midsize SUV plans earlier this year, we continued to study the minivan segment,” said HMA president and CEO Robert Cosmai.

“The surge in gas prices, which we believe is not short term, and the resulting movement away from truck-based full-size SUVs has given additional life to the traditional minivan segment. Surveys show the number of consumers moving from full-size SUVs to minivans is up over 40%.

“So we gave our product development teams in Korea and the US the challenge to ensure the Hyundai minivan would better capture our brand identity and sufficiently differentiate us from [Kia’s] product. We think they’ve done a great job, especially given the tight timing we’ve had to work with.”

The Entourage, which will debut as a 2007 model year product in mid-2006, was shown to dealers this week.

HMA claims the new minivan will lead its segment in standard safety equipment, with electronic stability control, six airbags, and anti-whiplash front seat head restraints. It shares its 3.8-litre petrol V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission with Hyundai’s new premium sedan, the Azera.

It will also be the first minivan to offer power sliding doors as standard in the US.

“Our research shows more than 80% of minivan owners want this feature. These moves give us tremendous economies of scale, as well as delighted customers,” an HMA spokesman said.