Just a month ago, we suggested that 40 miles per gallon is the new bragging threshold for subcompact and even compact cars.

Now, Hyundai has dropped the gloves (or thrown down the gauntlet) with a clever marketing campaign to contrast it with other makers: It will start breaking out the sales of its models rated at 40 mpg every month, and challenges the other carmakers to do the same.

"For us," said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, "leadership isn’t how many low-volume special-edition 40-mpg models we offer, but rather how many 40-mpg vehicles consumers actually buy. We’d love to see others follow our lead.”

It's all to highlight the 2011 Hyundai Elantra compact, which the EPA rates at 40 mpg highway for all of its models--unlike, say, the 2011 Chevy Cruze. There's only a single model, the 2011 Chevy Cruze Eco, that reaches the magic 40 mpg rating.

Hyundai's Save The Asterisks's

Hyundai's Save The Asterisks's

Or as Hyundai pointedly says, "We want to emphasize ALL Elantras, not just a small slice of manual transmission models (already a small slice), get 40 mpg – no asterisks."

Which is what leads to their "Save the Asterisks!" video, below.

Going further, Hyundai says it expects to sell more 40-mpg Elantras in January than its two of its (unspecified) "key competitors" will sell during all of 2011 of their "40/42 mpg special additions" [SIC: We think Hyundai's press release meant to say 'editions'].

Although the EPA's FuelEconomy.gov website lets consumers sort all cars by mileage rating, this is still another clever challenge by a company that's becoming known for its marketing smarts.

Another case: Hyundai benefited mightily during the economic downturn from their Hyundai Assurance Program, which guaranteed to take back any new Hyundai bought by anyone who subsequently lost a job.

It was a big hit with consumers, and is widely credited with boosting Hyundai to double-digit sales growth. It subsequently led to "Assurance Plus", which promised to let laid-off car buyers coast on three months of payments instead of returning their vehicles altogether.

The new 2011 Elantra uses similar styling cues to the successful 2010 Hyundai Sonata midsize car, which has decisively outsold its predecessor. With strong entries in the key compact and midsize sedan segments, you might say Hyundai's on a roll--asterisks and all.

[Hyundai Motors]