BRAND BUILDING: Hyundai rises as a serious contender in U.S. market

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    250pxHyundai-Sonata

    Who would’ve guessed?

    When Hyundai entered the U.S. market 25 years ago, no one probably ever expected that the carmaker would be as big of player as it is now,  paving the way for vehicles like the Genesis sedan.

    It’s a success story that dates back to February 1986, when Hyundai (pronounced “like Sunday” – love that commercial) first launched its subcompact Excel model in the U.S. Customer response was immediate, and in just seven months Hyundai had sold its 100,000th Excel.

    At the time, a lot of carmakers had abandoned the entry-level market in favor of high-end, high-priced vehicles, leaving a large void in the market. Hyundai saw a niche for first-time car buyers such as college students and young families were not able to find adequate, value-equipped cars that met their needs that were affordable.

    The Sonata was introduced in the U.S. market in 1988. In 1998, Hyundai added a 10-year 100,000 warranty to cars sold in the U.S. as part of an aggressive marketing strategy.

    Helping to further position Hyundai in the U.S. market, in April of 2002, the carmaker broke ground in Montgomery, Ala., for its first U.S. automobile assembly plant, a $1 billion investment, employing nearly 2,000 people.

    Scott Margason, director of product planning Hyundai, says there are several things that have contributed to Hyundai success.

    “First is the huge improvement in quality,” noted Margason. “We are now ranked with J.D. Power and Associates at a higher (quality) level than a few select luxury players. Safety is another part, especially when it comes to standard safety features.”

    Those are some of the basics that have helped better position Hyundai in the U.S. market, said Margason.

    “What you are seeing now and since the Genesis launch is moving beyond the basics to vehicles that have emotional appeal,” Margason. “Genesis has been really successful with changing people’s perceptions about the type of products we can produce.”

    Dubbed as a “premium” sports sedan, when launched in 2008 the Genesis was Hyundai’s first rear-wheel-drive vehicle and a direct stab at major competitors in the full-size sedan segment including a number of luxury carmakers.

    The Genesis, which won the North American International Car of the Year honor in 2009, features interior details like wood and leather trim with double stitching and a number of technology features including push-button start and a multimedia system with an iPod, HD Radio, Navigation w NavTraffic and 8” display with DVD playback.

    It’s even available with a Lexicon 7.1 surround sound audio that includes an 11-channel digital amplifier and 17 speakers, producing 528 watts, which aside from Genesis, is only available in the Rolls Royce.

    According to Hyundai, the Genesis clocks a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds, which is faster than the BMW 750i, BMW 550i, and Lexus LS 460.  And it has a sticker price substantially lower than any other vehicle in its class.

    Still, it’s the styling of the Genesis that has really lured people in, which Hyundai unleashed last year in a sportier coupe model.

    It’s what Hyundai refers to as “fluid sculpture,” a design language that makes the vehicle seem that it is in motion. The new 2011 Sonata and Tucson, on display at the 2010 North American International Auto Show, are the latest vehicles unveiled by Hyundai to feature the styling cues.

    It adds to a Hyundai line-up that’s now a long way from the days when the company’s cars were known just for their affordability.

    “We are the company that can bring all the practical attributes in vehicles that you can be excited about,” said Margason.

    HYUNDAI’S ROAD TO SUCCESS

    1986: Enters the U.S. market with the Excel.

    1988: Hyundai Introduces Sonata Sedan to U.S. market.

    1998: Adds a 10-year 100,000 warranty to cars sold in the U.S.

    2001: Introduces Santa Fe SUV.

    2002: Breaks ground in Montgomery, Ala., for its first U.S. automobile assembly plant.

    2003: Makes safety side air bags standard.

    2007: Introduces new Genesis

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