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Hyundai Motor bets on new small SUV as China sales skid

[GOYANG, South Korea] Hyundai Motor unveiled its first subcompact sport utility vehicle Kona for advanced markets, including the United States, Europe and South Korea, as it tries to offset sliding sales in China and catch up with rivals in the segment.

The South Korean automaker said it would also launch an electric version of the Kona small sport utility vehicle (SUV) next year and a smaller SUV and a large SUV by 2020.

This comes at a time when Hyundai looks set to miss its sales target for a third straight year due to the unpopularity of its mainstay small sedans and political tensions between Beijing and Seoul that have battered sales in China, the company's biggest market.

Hyundai, which together with its affiliate Kia is the world's No.5 automaker, previously sold subcompact SUVs only in emerging markets, missing out on strong growth in the segment in South Korea, the United States and Europe.

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The subcompact SUV is the top-performing segment globally, growing at an annual average of 46 per cent from 2010 to 2016, Hyundai said, citing IHS Automotive data.

"Even as the global SUV market is nearing saturation, we believe that extra small or small SUVs have more room for growth than large SUVs," Hyundai Motor Co Vice-Chairman Chung Eui-sun said during a launch event near Seoul.

The automaker launched the Kona in South Korea on Tuesday, and said it would roll out the small SUV in Europe in August and the United States in December. It aims to sell over 200,000 of the vehicles globally next year.

The Kona will compete with Nissan's Juke and Honda's CR-V in the United States.

Hyundai and Kia in January said they aimed to increase global sales by 5 percent this year, but their combined sales fell 7 per cent over January to May, hit by slowing Chinese and US sales. "Our sales plan has suffered a setback, but we will use this as an opportunity to overhaul our products," said Chung, the only son of Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo.

He also said Hyundai would beef up cooperation with technology firms like Cisco, Baidu and Uber instead of buying other automakers.

Kia will join Hyundai in the launch of the former's subcompact SUV, Stonic, starting next month.