Hyundai has scored major gains in quality with products like the 2015 Tucson, but now it needs to increase production levels.

After watching sales grow more than seven-fold from 1998 to 2014, Hyundai Motor America unexpectedly leveled off last year, and company officials think there’s one primary reason why: a lack of crossover-utility vehicles.

The Korean carmaker simply hasn’t kept up with one of the biggest changes to reshape the U.S. auto industry in decades, with SUVs and CUVs now outselling sedans for the first time ever. But that soon could change, according to HMA CEO Dave Zuchowski. Hyundai not only has an all-new Tucson for 2016, but it’s getting a big increase in production capacity.

Longer-term, Zuchowski said, Hyundai is looking to significantly expand its crossover line-up, with two possible new models in the works, offerings that would bookend the maker’s current utility vehicle line-up.

“We’re not participating in the biggest growth segment in the market,” said the Hyundai CEO during a media drive of the new 2016 Tucson. That’s why the launch of the redesigned crossover is “extremely important in the near future for the brand’s growth.”

Hyundai's U.S. sales are lagging due, in part, to a lack of crossovers, like the Santa Fe, left, and Santa Fe Sport.

According to industry data, car-like crossovers now account for about a third of the new vehicle market – a figure that jumps to 40% when conventional SUVs are included. CUV sales alone have surged from 900,000 to 1.5 million annually during the last five years.

During that same period, Hyundai’s share of the crossover market has declined by 45%, even though it offers three distinct models: the Tucson, the mid-range Santa Fe Sport and the larger Santa Fe.

One reason has been limited availability, especially of the Tucson. Hyundai, on the whole, has been struggling with limited capacity worldwide, in part, due to a corporate moratorium it ordered several years ago limiting growth. The Korean parent wanted to focus on quality, a move that has paid off, according to recent surveys such as the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study which found Hyundai and Kia at the top among mainstream brands.

That moratorium has finally been lifted, Zuchowski noted, and a new assembly plant is opening in the Czech Republic, with others to follow. That will quickly free up capacity that HMA hopes to make use of. The American subsidiary sold just 47,306 Tucsons last year but expects to move 56,200 for all of 2015. And the goal is 90,000 next year.

That would more than double Hyundai’s share of the compact crossover market, to around 6%, the maker forecasts.

(Koreans score big again in vehicle satisfaction awards. For more, Click Here.)

Even then, Hyundai will be playing a game of catch-up as long as the crossover segment continues to grow – all the more so as competitors continue to add new models targeting new niches within the CUV segment.

To gain a more level footing, Zuchowski told, will likely require Hyundai to add still more models to its CUV line-up.

“I think there’s room for a B-segment CUV, a definite white space there,” he said, referring to a rapidly expanding niche that includes models such as the new Honda HR-V and, at the upper end, the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

(Click Here for details about Hyundai taking over for GM as the NFL’s top sponsor.)

These small crossovers make up the world’s fastest-growing niche right now, and while still relatively modest in sales, demand is surging in the U.S., as well.

Meanwhile, the Hyundai CUV said he also sees, “definite room for us at the top end, maybe a Genesis-based CUV” that could target the likes of the BMW X5 or Audi Q7.

While European luxury makers, in particular, are flooding the market with all manner of new CUVs, Zuchowski said Hyundai won’t try to “cut those hairs too thin.”

(Hyundai offers up an early rendering of its new Creta small CUV. Click Here for a look.)

But it almost certainly will have four crossovers in its line-up in the near future, and possibly five.

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