FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California -- For quite a long time, Hyundai cars have been perceived as decently-priced high-quality vehicles in the U.S. But many things are about to change now as the company is gearing up to launch its premium brand Genesis in the world’s largest upscale automobile market.
"We will present the first flagship sedan Genesis G90 (to be released as EQ900 in Korea) at the Detroit Motor Show in January. The market is quite robust and we are poised for very strong growth, what we think is the ‘tipping point,’” said David Zuchowski, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, at the HMA headquarters in California on Monday. The G90 will be out in the U.S. market in late 2016.
After the surprise launch of Genesis on Nov. 4 and the unveiling of the first model G90 the following week in Korea, the U.S. subsidiary -- which recently crossed the milestone of 10 million unit-sales of Hyundai cars since 1986 -- has been busy figuring out the pros and cons of introducing Genesis as an individual brand.
Initially introduced as an upscale model in 2008, Genesis has become the symbol of what Korean carmakers can do through a luxury slogan. More than 20,000 units have been sold between January and October in the U.S., some 38.2 percent up from the same period last year.
However, readjusting Genesis as a separate luxury brand could be considered risky for the world’s fifth-largest carmaker with a strong foothold in the compact and midsized sedan segment. The former Genesis competed with mid-luxury sedans such as Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5-series, but the new one aims to go head-on with Audi A8, Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-series, the highest end of mass luxury cars.
However, it is also imperative to get the U.S. market’s approval for the Genesis to be reborn as a global luxury brand -- more than 2 million luxury cars were sold in 2014 in the U.S., outnumbering China’s 1.8 million. Global automotive consulting group IHS expects the U.S. to have more than 10.6 million luxury cars by 2020, about 1.8 times the current size of 5.7 million.
“We continue to conduct surveys on whether Americans are ready to embrace Genesis as an individual luxury brand (like Toyota did with Lexus). About 98 percent of the surveyed Genesis drivers said they are very satisfied with the car and we have quite positive project for the future,” said Harry Han, chief executive coordinator at HMA.
The management admitted that enhancing the brand position from mid-to-luxury to premium would take time.
"I give it five years to refine the dealers’ network -- we will take some of the shop-in-shops for (another Hyundai luxury model) Equus -- and come up with a variety of lineups to meet the market demand,” Zuchowski said.
The customers who already have the Genesis cars -- launched in 2008 and 2013 -- will also be able to benefit from a variety of as yet undecided perks and services given to new Genesis buyers. “We will not forget those who love Genesis,” Han said.
HMA expects the Genesis as well as the new Elantra (American name for Korea’s Avante) to lead the vehicle sales that have been rather stagnant for the past several years.
“Genesis is an evolution. You wait and see,” Zuchowski said.
By Bae Ji-sook, Korea Herald correspondent (email@example.com