Hyundai Aims To Join European Automaker’s Club

South Korean automaker applied for European Automobile Manufacturers' Association membership, which is reserved for manufacturers that produce entire cars in Europe.

GENEVA (AP) -- Hyundai said Wednesday it aims to become a card carrying member of the European automakers' club, following in the footsteps of other foreign companies such as Toyota and GM, who have an established presence on the continent.

The South Korean firm increased its market share in Europe to 2.4 percent from 1.8 percent last year by selling mostly small, low-cost models.

"We want to demonstrate our European credentials," said Allan Rushforth, Vice President Europe.

Hyundai has applied for membership of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, which is reserved for manufacturers that produce entire cars in Europe. The company has manufacturing plants for the i30 family wagon in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

An ACEA spokeswoman, Sigrid de Vries, said Hyundai's application would be considered on its merits by the industry group's board, but not before June. Ford, Toyota and GM are the only non-European members.

The move to join ACEA will likely receive a frosty reception from Hyundai's European rivals, who have criticized a trade pact struck last year by the European Union and South Korea to lower trade tariffs.

ACEA is worried the deal could allow in a flood of low-cost cars assembled in South Korea but using cheaper parts from other parts of Asia. It needs EU government and European Parliament backing which would be likely by the end of this year at the latest.

"Awareness of our brand is still too low in Europe," Rushforth said. He pointed to Tuesday's announcement that the company will extend its sponsorship of football's European Championship through 2016 as an example of Hyundai's effort to raise its profile on the continent.

Hyundai sold almost 340,000 vehicles in Europe last year, and sales were up 53 percent in January compared with the same month in 2009, said Rushforth.

Sales are expected to dip during the March-August period, when the effects of now canceled scrappage schemes hits the industry, he said.

Hyundai will focus its marketing efforts on the ix35 sports utility vehicle -- a similar model to the 2010 Tucson designed for the U.S. market -- during this year's football World Cup, which it also sponsors. The launch of a new subcompact is also planned by the end of the year.

The company wants to achieve a market share of 2.7 percent in Europe in 2010, said Rushforth.

Associated Press Writer Aoife White in Brussels contributed to this report.

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