2011 Hyundai Sonata - Click above for high-res image gallery

2009 was a tough year for nearly every automaker doing business in the U.S., but somehow Hyundai made the near total collapse of auto sales look like no big deal. Actually, we know how Hyundai pulled a Houdini-style miracle: Improved product and quality. And after taking a look at the Korean automaker's fourth quarter earnings report it appears that all that hard work paid off.

The New York Times reports that Hyundai made 945 billion won ($819 million), nearly four times the 243 billion won ($210 million) it made in Q4 2008. Hyundai essentially matched the $845 million that it made in Q3 2009 in part because of sales revenue that rose 9.3 percent year over year. Even more impressive is the fact that Hyundai pulled off a very solid profit in a down market while the Korean won increased by 35 percent versus the U.S. dollar.

Hyundai is likely pretty happy with its 2009 performance, yet the Korean automaker wants more in 2010. Hyundai is forecasting a sales increase of 11 percent versus 2009, with predicted sales of 3.46 million cars, trucks and commercial vehicles – not unreasonable when you consider the potential for the U.S. auto industry to improve a bit in 2010 combined with compelling new product like the 2011 Sonata.

Mitsuru Kurokawa at IHS Global Insight in Tokyo thinks Hyundai will make gains due to Toyota's recent problems, adding "they've got a lot going for them: a broad compact-car lineup, attractive prices for the quality they offer and clever marketing."

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