Hyundai Motor Co.'s all-new Genesis premium and Sonata midsize sedans may indirectly benefit from airbag safety issues plaguing rivals in the U.S. market, industry sources here said Monday.
The speculation comes as automotive journalists in the United States and Canada get ready to vote on the three vehicles that will be considered for the coveted 2015 North American Car of the Year title to be announced in January.
Of the 10 models on the current shortlist, only four manufacturers have not been cited for equipping their vehicles sold in the United States with defective airbags made by Japanese parts maker Takata Corp.
Hyundai, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have not been affected by the sweeping airbag recalls taking place in the United States.
Besides the Genesis and Sonata, the Mercedes-Benz C-class, Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf-GTI, Acura TLX, Chrysler 200, Ford Mustang, Honda Fit, and Toyota Camry made the shortlist announced in September.
"The North American Car of the Year titles have in the past been given to cars that best reflect the main trend of the times, and with safety becoming an key issue, cars that excel in this field may hold their own when it comes to winning votes this year," a market observer speculated.
He pointed out that the Genesis received the best rating in all safety categories tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) and rated it as a "Top Safety Pick+," with the best "good" rating on all 29 safety categories checked.
Hyundai said the rating marked the first time ever that a rear-wheel drive (RWD) vehicle in the class got the recognition, with the Genesis also being the only RWD luxury sedan to earn the coveted "good" mark for the small overlap crash test.
The seventh generation Sonata, which started hitting showrooms in the United States over the summer months, also got the "Top Safety Pick+" in its crash test carried out by the IIHS.
Besides the excellent crash test results, both the Genesis and Sonata have received numerous awards in recent months from such notable publications as Edmunds.com.
Regarding industry speculation, South Korea's largest carmaker said it does not comment on other manufacturers, but emphasized that it places top priority on safety and quality. All new models made by the carmaker make extensive use of high tensile steel that greatly reduces injury to passengers when there is a crash.
"Every aspect of corporate operations, including production, is geared to ensure top-notch quality control and passenger safety," a source, who declined to be identified, said. He said that even making the first shortlist and then proceeding to the final three is considered high praise in the industry.
Industry insiders have said being named as a contender boosts sales and bolsters the brand equity of a carmaker in the eyes of consumers.
Meanwhile, Hyundai won the North American Car of the Year title twice with the previous generation Genesis in 2009, and with the 2012 Elantra. Its sixth generation Sonata was runner-up in 2011.