By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS> unveiled the first sport-utility vehicle (SUV) under its Genesis brand on Wednesday, a move analysts said was crucial for the premium marque's expansion in overseas markets.
The brand, spun off in 2015, is an initiative of Hyundai Motor Group heir-apparent Euisun Chung aimed at revamping the image of the value-for-money automaker.
However, its sedan-only lineup has limited its reach in the United States - its biggest overseas market - where consumer preference has shifted to SUVs, and where Hyundai has been embroiled in disputes with dealerships.
The automaker plans to launch the GV80 SUV in North America in the first quarter of 2020. It expects the model to be part of a strengthened lineup that will also lead the brand's expansion in China and Europe where it has yet to make inroads, William Lee, Global Head of Genesis, told a news conference.
Genesis' lineup currently comprises just three sedans, which analysts said limits its appeal, particularly with the increased demand for SUVs among younger drivers in recent years.
"Genesis owners are some of the oldest in the U.S. market. With a median age of 62, only Cadillac and Lincoln owners are older," Ed Kim, vice president at California-based consultancy AutoPacific, told Reuters.
"It (the GV80) will ... have the role of bringing younger buyers to the brand," he said.
The brand made progress rebuilding its U.S. retail network in 2019 after flip-flopping on strategy for separate dealerships to those of Hyundai-branded vehicles which led to legal disputes with Hyundai dealers.
About 350 Hyundai dealerships in the United States have Genesis showrooms, with about a dozen in the "early stages" of developing plans for separate Genesis retail facilities, U.S.-based Genesis spokesman Kevin Smith said in an emailed statement.
Over 70% of Genesis vehicles were sold in South Korea in January-November 2019, with the rest sold mainly in the United States.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Christopher Cushing)