Wasn't so long ago that Hyundai's survival in the U.S. market was considered a coin toss at best.

Hyundai took the U.S. market by storm in 1986 with a new subcompact car called Excel that sold for about $4,000, less than most used cars sold for at the time.

Within two years, the South Korean automaker rang up sales of 264,282 cars in the U.S.

Then folks started paying attention to quality and not just price. Sales began a steady decline until they reached 90,217 in 1998, and the fat lady began warming up her vocal cords.

But Hyundai has reversed its fortunes. It replaced Excel with the Accent in 1995 and followed that with an expansion of the lineup to include the Sonata, Elantra, Tiburon, XG300 and Santa Fe.

But more important, it focused on quality to win back consumer confidence and now, rather than worry about survival, it's talking expansion and has targeted sales of 1 million vehicles in the U.S. by 2010.

To help meet that goal, it will add an assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., to produce 300,000 cars and sport-utility vehicles annually starting in 2005.

Through May, '03 sales rose to 164,524 units, from 153,102 a year earlier, well on the way to reaching the target of 420,000 for the full year, up from the 375,119 sold here in '02.

A major contributor to its growth has been the Santa Fe sport-utility vehicle, with sales rising from 50,000 in its first year in 2001 to 75,000 in '02, and an expected 100,000 in '03.

But the best-selling nameplate in the lineup is the compact Elantra, and it, too, is making a contribution. Sales have risen to nearly 49,000 in the first five months of this year, up from about 47,000 a year earlier.

And to ensure the popularity of its best-selling model, Hyundai has added a new offering for '03, the Elantra GT sedan as a companion to the GT hatchback it offered for '02.

With its 2-liter, 135-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, the Elantra GT sedan we tested will never be mistaken for a Mustang GT coupe. But it's not a car you have to be ashamed of, either. Like a Saturn coupe, Elantra is an economy car dressed in sporty attire with spoiler so it doesn't look like a blue-light special.

The 2-liter will get you moving but won't get the radials smoking. The suspension will hold you in corners and turns, provided you enter and exit those corners and turns more gingerly than you would in a Mustang GT.

You'll not only feel blemishes in the road, you'll also hear the tires slapping against them while in the cabin.

But it's easier to accept a few compromises when you check out the numbers--a base price of only $14,149 and fuel economy of 24 m.p.g. city/33 m.p.g. highway, and we swear that it took two days of driving before the needle on the fuel gauge slipped off the "F" mark in the '03 Elantra GT tested.

In addition to the numbers, the letters are impressive, the ones that spell "included" on the window sticker when it comes to standard equipment.

The GT comes with four-wheel disc brakes; 15-inch, radial tires; AM/FM stereo with CD changer; air conditioning; power locks, windows and mirrors; cruise control; trip computer; keyless entry; purple gauges; rear-window defroster; tilt steering; split folding rear seats; carpeted floor mats; and dual front and side-impact air bags.

A trio of options complete the package--anti-lock brakes with traction control at $525, power moonroof, $650, and automatic transmission, $800. That's about $2,000 in goodies added to the $14,149 base.

Other noteworthy touches include impressive trunk size, rear seats that fold to increase cargo room through the trunk, a black-dot matrix on the glass behind the rearview mirror to reduce glare and more than ample, leg, head and arm room front and rear.

Of course, it is a $14,000 car and there are some drawbacks, such as a narrow tunnel between trunk and cabin opening when the rear seats are lowered that blocks easy loading of items into the cabin, plus rear seat backs that are a tad stiff.

Volo vs. Volvo II: We reported that Volvo, the carmaker, and Volo, the car museum, were at odds (Cars, May 5).

Volvo of Sweden, which sells about 130,000 new Volvos in the U.S. each year, became upset when it learned that Volo Auto Museum, in the hamlet of Volo, west of Grayslake, which displays and sells about 700 antique, vintage and collector cars annually, had an Internet domain name similar to the carmaker's--volocars.com vs. volvocars.com.

Imagine if a Volvo shopper didn't exhibit digital dexterity and accidentally entered the Volo cars Web site, and rather than getting a new Volvo ended up with a '57 Chevy!

Volvo told Volo to give up its name. Volo told Volvo to go to Goteborg. Volvo responded by filing a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which resolves domain name disputes.

Greg Grams, proprietor of the museum/vintage car sales outlet, argued that he had his domain name before Volvo had its domain name, so he should keep his. Besides, he said, not only doesn't the museum sell Volvos, but its site also has a link to Volvo should folks reach Volo by mistake.

Volvo, which admits it hasn't lost any sales to Volo, said it is only trying to protect its name and trademark.

The only agreement the two sides have reached in the last several weeks is that they can't settle the dispute and will wait for WIPO to rule.

Grams said a few days ago he got a visit from a Volvo representative.

"Volvo sent an emissary to ask me what it would take to settle the dispute, and I said for Volvo to agree to go away and leave us alone. I also said I had more than $80,000 in legal fees," Grams said.

"I was told Volvo wouldn't take care of the legal fees, but to end the publicity, they would agree to leave us alone and [let us] keep our domain name. They were to send me an agreement to sign, but I didn't get it, so I called. The man who visited had gone on vacation so I talked to another man who said he'd send the agreement. I got it a couple days later and couldn't believe it. The agreement said that I would agree to give up the domain name," Grams said.

"This has gotten out of hand. Our concern isn't with Volo cars or the museum as it is in protecting our trademark," said Volvo spokesman Dan Johnston, who said he was the one who visited Grams three weeks ago and asked how he could end the dispute.

"I feel we reached an agreement to get this over, but a couple days later he rescinded the pact. Now it's up to WIPO to decide," Johnston said.

"I'll take my chances with WIPO," Grams said. "I feel positive we can win this."

And if WIPO rules for Volvo?

"If WIPO decides against us , then I've got to talk to my attorneys about going to federal court with this. I'm not going to give up my identity to a wealthy Swedish company," Grams said.

Actually, Volvo is owned by Ford, a wealthy American family.


2003 Hyundai Elantra GT

Wheelbase: 102.7 inches

Length: 177.1 inches

Engine: 2-liter, 135-h.p., 4-cylinder

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Fuel economy: 24 m.p.g. city/33 m.p.g. highway

Base price: $14,149

Price as tested: $14,799. Includes $650 power moonroof. Add $540 for freight.

Pluses: GT sedan a new addition to lineup for '03. Low initial price with lots of standard equipment and not a long list of options (anti-lock brakes at $525, automatic transmission at $800, and power moonroof at $650 are all you need). Fuel gauge acts as if needle is stuck on "F." Doesn't look like an economy car.

Minuses: Ease off throttle in sharp corners. Doesn't look like economy car, but suspension acts like one. Tunnel blocks passage from trunk to rear sets with seat backs folded. ABS, automatic and moonroof still add almost $2,000.