Starex makes a comeback

There are more exciting vehicles in the lineup at Hyundai Motor Co. than its big van known as the Grand Starex in Korea and the H-1 overseas.

The only customization these vehicles are likely get around here is a bright yellow paint job and a hagwon’s name and phone number slapped on the sides.

But the Starex deserves some respect. Introduced in 1997, Hyundai produced 133,959 of them in 2000, the model’s peak year of production. Last year, the Starex had domestic sales of 69,193, making it the fourth-highest selling model and putting it above the Santa Fe and Tucson SUV models. But declining sales signaled it was time for a change, said Oles Gadacz, a Hyundai spokesperson.

“It was getting long in the tooth,” he said.

Hyundai chose a good time to launch. The small bus segment in Korea has declined from 197,931 units of production in 2002 to 92,446 last year, largely on declines from Hyundai and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp., which discontinued its Pregio small bus models in 2005. Hyundai will have an open run at the small bus market. The small bus (seating for under 15 people) segment was a 60,874-unit market in Korea last year, with the Starex accounting for 48,775 of sales. GM Daewoo’s Damas models accounted for the rest.

Hyundai anticipates the new design will jumpstart sales to a total annual of 115,000 units, 65,500 of which would be in Korea. Starex exports last year were 37,248.

The Starex is aimed at small business owners who have to haul cargo or people. It comes in a wagon body style and a smaller van style. The wagon seats up to 12 people and the van seats up to six. Hyundai plans to begin producing the latest Starex model this August.

The launch follows a showing of the TQ concept version at the Seoul Motor Show in April and a media launch of the Starex production version last month. The standard engine for Korean and European markets is a diesel 170-horsepower turbocharged engine, 70 more than the old Starex. The Starex now offers a gasoline engine option that also produces 170 horsepower. In developing markets, it comes with a diesel engine that puts out 100 horsepower.

The updated version is a little bit larger in all dimensions and looks quite a bit sharper than the last one. The standard silver color and some design elements will remind people that the Starex is made by the same company that makes the Veracruz luxury SUV, aimed squarely at the Lexus crowd in the United States. It also has added more interior features to give the ride more of a passenger car experience.

June 25, 2007 | The Korea Herald (link not available)