Carmakers usually do not openly talk about their rivals. But when Hyundai Motor recently unveiled its new Avante and Sonata sedans ― two crucial launches in recent months ― the carmaker never hesitated to pinpoint Volkswagen’s Golf and Passat as key competitors.
“The powerhouse of Korea says their cars are getting closer to Volkswagen, which means we are doing great,” Thomas Kuehl, the Korean chief of Volkswagen, told The Korea Herald in a recent interview.
Despite its strong presence globally, Kuehl humbly called Volkswagen a “small player” in the Korean market where Hyundai and its affiliate Kia Motors claim almost 80 percent of car sales. But he showed confidence in grabbing more market share from the powerful Korean duo.
In recent years, Volkswagen has been the fastest-growing foreign car brand in Korea. In 2013, its Korean sales almost doubled to 25,649 vehicles from a year before, slightly less than the best-selling BMW with 33,066 unit sales.
Among other things, 2013 was also the first year Volkswagen outpaced Mercedes-Benz in terms of sales here, hinting at a demographic shift in import car buyers from the previous middle-aged business owners and CEOs to younger and hipper generations.
Considering most Volkswagen owners in Korea are in their 20s to 40s, Kuehl predicted the recent sales momentum will continue in the coming years.
|Thomas Kuehl, the Korean chief of Volkswagen, speaks during a recent interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)|
“When you are doing things right and do have success, it seems almost unstoppable in Korea because people are putting the word of mouth on it,” he added with a smile.
Kuehl, who had already proven his knack for selling cars and leading local teams in emerging markets like Mexico and India, joined the Korean unit in September.
“Even McDonald’s is delivering here. It’s very innovative and creates jobs too. I really like the things in Korea,” he said, calling his six-month stay in Korea “phenomenon.”
He said that Volkswagen was also reinventing its own way to offer more cars and customer services specialized in Korea. The Korean unit also plans to launch its own used-car business and expand after-sales service centers in the coming months.
“Korea is getting more and more important strategically,” he said, in the way for Volkswagen Group, which owns 12 renowned brands such as Audi, Porsche and Bentley as well, to become the No. 1 carmaker globally by 2018.
“The head office is getting Korea into all development process now.”
He wouldn’t say Volkswagen is the most premium brand in the market but stressed that the powerful combination of its value for money and innovative efforts makes it unrivaled among numerous brands “like Apple’s iPhone.”
Kuehl’s commuting limousine in Seoul is the Phaeton sedan but he picked the Golf GTI, the same car that he bought himself first at age 22, his favorite Volkswagen car.
“At the time, I never thought of working at Volkswagen. The car is still my dream car.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com