As many Autoblog readers have speculated since the debut of the Azera (pictured), Hyundai is indeed determined to transform itself into a premium brand. (Also check out Autoblog Podcast 16.)
The Azera launches in the U.S. in December, and according to a BusinessWeek article, the company expects to sell 40,000 units in 2006 and 100,000 in 2007, going head-to-head with the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima and Ford Five Hundred, although priced $1,600 to $4,000 lower. Hyundai has sold 40,000 Azeras in Korea since its launch in May.

The revamped Santa Fe also follows the upmarket strategy, and should hit the U.S. market next year, opposite Toyota's Highlander. Although priced higher than the current model, it will be significantly less expensive than the Highlander.

Both new cars typify the company's strategy - offer a lot of "extras" as standard equipment, while pricing below the competition. The company's new cars also deliver a strong safety message, with lots of air bags, electronic stability control and other safety features.

The Santa Fe and Azera may be upscale, but in 2007 the company plans to debut a true luxury model in the Korean market. The car is said to be a rear-wheel drive sedan with a BMW-class 4.6-liter engine.

It all sounds good, but I wonder if Hyundai's marketers have heard the tale of the Volkswagen Phaeton?

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