It just might be the world's first paperless car: Hyundai Motor America will include an iPad -- loaded with a digital version of the thick owner's manual -- with the luxury sedan it plans to launch this fall.
The iPad pitch is aimed to tap into the hype over Apple Inc.'s sleek tablet computer, which is slated to be released Saturday, and will be included as part of the package for consumers who drive off with Hyundai's Equus luxury sedan.
People who purchase the South Korean automaker's first venture into the super-premium auto market will also be able to use one of the tablet's pre-loaded applications to make service appointments.
"They are trying to position themselves as a modern, in-touch, technologically savvy brand. It is the sort of innovation you would expect from BMW or Mercedes, but not Hyundai," said Mike Bloxham, director of insight and research at Ball State University's Center for Media Design.
Known for budget cars such as the $9,970 Accent and the $14,145 Elantra, Hyundai is trying to break into the high-end market with the Equus, which the manufacturer compares to the Lexus LS 460 and Mercedes-Benz S550 sedans. The three vehicles are similar in size and are equipped with engines that have about the same power -- in the 380-horsepower range.
(Hyundai is pursuing a strategy similar to one used in the late 1980s by Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., which expanded their portfolio of products by moving into higher-profit luxury cars with their respective Acura and Lexus brands.)
The Equus will sell for $50,000 to $60,000, according to Hyundai executives. The exact price will be announced closer to the sales launch. But they note it will be thousands of dollars less than a similarly equipped Lexus, which has a sticker price of $65,380, or Mercedes, which has a suggested price of $91,600.
And, reasoned the auto manufacturer, customers who would be inclined to spend more on their cars were the same people who would be drawn to trendy technological gadgets.
"We thought it was keeping the vehicle in tune with the owners we expect to attract," said Chris Hosford, spokesman for the Fountain Valley-based U.S. sales division of the automaker.
But whether Hyundai will be able to compete effectively in that market -- even by offering a $499 iPad as an incentive -- is questionable, said Rebecca Lindland, auto industry analyst at IHS Global Insight.
"The car itself looks great and is high-end, but I think people will have a difficult time justifying paying that type of money for a Hyundai," Lindland said.