It seems wonders really will never cease. According to a report just out from, er, Consumer Reports, Detroit now has a new rival to worry about. That's hardly news, but it does come as a surprise that Japan's supertrio of Toyota (NYSE:TM), Honda (NYSE:HMC), and Nissan (NASDAQ:NSANY) have cause to worry, too. What's behind all this consternation? None other than South Korea's laughingstock of yesteryear: Hyundai (OTC BB: HYMLF).

That's right, folks. The consumer watchdogs have anointed Hyundai's Sonata sedan as the most reliable 2004 car model sold in America. Combine that with a J.D. Power endorsement of the Sonata as the "highest-ranked entry midsize car in initial quality," and Hyundai looks poised to prosper.

You may recall that last May, we reviewed reports from The Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) and J.D. Power extolling the virtues of Hyundai's top-of-the-line XG350L sedan and of Hyundai's entire line of automobiles, respectively. The only caveat to the reports was that while Hyundais looked good "out of the box," questions remained regarding the cars' reliability over the long haul. A subsequent June update from J.D. Power showed Hyundai beginning to lose speed in this regard. But with the recent endorsement from Consumer Reports, which I'd wager has a slightly larger readership among average car buyers than do J.D. Powers' reports, Hyundai looks ready to roll.

As bright as Hyundai's U.S. prospects are looking, though, its stock, listed on the Pink Sheets, doesn't look terribly promising for U.S. investors. As far as I could tell, the stock didn't trade a single share in the U.S. yesterday. Talk about illiquid!

That doesn't mean, however, that U.S. investors should just click "ignore" and pretend the company doesn't exist. The time may come when Hyundai decides to list its shares in the U.S. and offer us a chance to participate in its success. And even before then, it wouldn't be at all Foolish to ignore the effects that a rise in Hyundai's popularity here might have on Ford (NYSE:F), GM (NYSE:GM), and DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX). Each of the U.S. Big Three automakers increased its reliability ratings in Consumer Reports' rankings, almost certainly in response to continued inroads that their Japanese nemeses continue to make.

But watch carefully. As the U.S. and Japanese triumvirates face off in the great American car lot, little Hyundai might just slip in and steal the parking space in our hearts.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.