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The new Hyundai Sonata has only recently been introduced in Malaysia, but across the Pacific plans are already afoot to revamp the LF due to slower-than-expected sales, according to a Wards Auto report.

Hyundai’s American arm believes that the disappointing US retail performance of the new D-segment sedan – 216,936 units sold last year, just 6.5% higher than in 2013 – was due to the relatively milquetoast design, compared to its predecessor‘s bold flowing look.

“It’s a very handsome vehicle, (but) it’s not as distinctive as the vehicle it (followed),” said Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski.

The last YF Sonata wore the radical first iteration of the brand’s “Fluidic Sculpture” language – rather than the more refined and conservative “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” on the new car – and became the first Hyundai model to sell over 200,000 units a year in the US.

The move contrasts with Zuchowski’s comments last April – that the company didn’t have to “stand on a table” anymore in terms of design, because it believed it has already established itself in buyers minds as a top midsize competitor, like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Hyundai soon found out, however, that it had to give deeper discounts than it expected to move LF Sonatas off dealer forecourts.

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The YF-generation Sonata was more distinctive, wearing the showy “Fluidic Sculpture” design language

He added that the new Sonata was a hit with brand loyalists, but did not pull buyers shopping for other brands the way the old one did. “If we’re priced comparably, and we appear comparable, it’s always difficult to win that battle with those more well-established, well-entrenched (models).

“I told the story to our parent company (of driving the old Sonata) home, (and) people were rolling down their window at stop signs, following me, (asking), ‘What is that? Where can I get it?’ And I don’t get that (with the new one),” Zuchowski said. “That was free advertising, right? People would seek us out because we look different. And we don’t get that now.”

The facelift is expected to arrive during the 2017 or 2018 model year. “It’s hard to get anything (done sooner) than midcycle with the tooling involved,” Zuchowski said, adding that the company knows “exactly what we want to do, and we’re busy working on it right now.”

Zuchowski said that through the misstep, Hyundai has learnt some vital lessons in product development. “The more important thing is to understand we always need to keep our styling edge. We can’t let ourselves get closer to the pack.”