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Hyundai’s U.S. executives flock to GM

Hyundai Motor America’s senior designer Phillip Zak has returned to GM, joining the recent migration of Hyundai’s top-level executives to the U.S. giant.

Zak, who had worked as GM’s chief designer for Europe before moving to Hyundai Motor America in April 2009, returned to the U.S. carmaker earlier this month.

While at Hyundai Motor America, Zak is said to have played a key role in introducing Hyundai’s design theme of “fluidic sculpture” applied in the company’s recent vehicles.

While Zak has returned to where he began, he is the third Hyundai Motor America executive to make the move to GM.

Last year saw Hyundai Motor America’s Joel Ewanick appointed as GM’s chief marketing officer for its global operations. He was followed shortly by Chris Perry, who currently serves as the marketing officer for Chevrolet.

Both Ewanick and Perry worked as Hyundai Motor America’s marketing chiefs and are credited for marketing schemes that fueled much of the company’s recent advances in the U.S.

Last year, Hyundai’s sales in the U.S. jumped 23.7 percent compared to 2009. Along with Hyundai, its sister carmaker Kia Motors Corp. also saw its sales rise by 18.7 percent over the same period, pushing up the two carmakers’ combined market share to a record high of 7.7 percent.

In addition to the increase in sales volume, Hyundai and Kia are shifting the focus from small vehicles to larger segments in the U.S. market.

According to industry data, the proportion of the two firms’ U.S. sales accounted for by compact and smaller segments came in at 31 percent last year.

In comparison, the figure stood at 55.5 percent in 2001.

With the fall, Hyundai and Kia’s presence in the midsize segment has expanded significantly.

The two firms’ share of the United States’ midsized market rose to 13.1 percent last year, from the 5.3 percent recorded in 2003.

The company attributed the rise to the strategy of pushing larger models introduced in the early 2000s, and to Hyundai U.S. plant aiding midsized car supply to the market.

Hyundai’s current U.S. lineup consists of one subcompact and compact model, and four mid- and large sized sedans. The company also fields three SUV models in the market.

Kia’s lineup consists of two small models, one midsized and one large passenger cars and two SUVs.

With Kia negotiating with its union to produce the K5 sedan at its plant in Georgia, the Korean carmakers’ shift towards larger segments in the U.S. is expected to quicken.

By Choi He-suk  (