Barbara Ellington • Public Affairs Editor
The sleek, sexy Hyundai range of motor vehicles on the roads this year has not arrived by accident. The Genesis, Accent and Elantra have undergone an exciting makeover and everyone's talking. That is because, after hitting an all-time low in the late '90s, chairman of the group Choong-Ho Kim charted a strategic course to to take the brand to the top. The result would have to guarantee a return of consumer trust in the product.
According to a CNBC auto writer, "Better designs, mileage and reliability have contributed to Hyundai's resurgence. But the marketing has been important because it's bringing in first-time buyers. It's telling people who may have automatically dismissed Hyundai in the past that they should at least think about the Korean brand. And in the auto game, if you can get 'em in the showroom to at least look, you've got a shot at closing a sale."
Here in Jamaica, Desmond Panton, managing director of local Hyundai agent Key Motors, is using his close to 50 years' inside knowledge of the local motor vehicle industry to reposition the brand in the market.
In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Panton said Hyundai's turnaround started in 1995 when they began building their own engines, leaving the problems encountered when Hyundai (owner of Kia), used the transmission-plagued Mitsubishi engines. But by 1995, Hyundai had been building its own engines in-house and thus putting transmission problems behind. Chairman Choong made the decision to take the company from 14th place in the industry to eighth by 2000; they inched up to seventh in 2005 and, by 2007, Hyundai reached fifth place.
"In 2010, Choong attained the predicted fourth spot among car manufacturers and, by 2015, he hopes to slide into the third spot," Panton said as he chronicled the positive growth of the previously shunned brand. The rebirth was based on three pillars: safety, fuel efficiency, and innovative design. "Today, the Genesis boasts the highest powered V8 mass-produced engine in the world," Panton said. He explained the synergies in the ownership structure of the engine plant that are shared among Mitsubishi, Daimler-Chrysler, and Hyundai-Kia.
Mandate to design
All three companies were mandated to design the most fuel efficient, innovative, powerful and economic car, with features that compete with the best in the world. "Hyundai's design emerged the best. The new designs were also done in-house and the resulting sleek sculpture portrays a fluid-like running style. However, this design will change again in four years," Panton added with more than a hint of pride colouring his tone.
But for all the style of the sedans, Jamaicans still have a preference for SUVs and crossovers, Panton noted. The Santa Fe and Tuscon are gaining in popularity. However, with the downturn in the Jamaican economy, Panton, like other new-car dealers, is feeling the effects of decreased new-car sales. "Consumer confidence has plunged so our decision to open a showroom in Tropical Plaza worked well and we are looking at entering Montego Bay in 2014," he said.
As for the long term, with no children waiting to step into his shoes and a three to five-year retirement plan, Panton said he would be willing to financially support a suitable candidate who would go to university, learn how to operate a dealership, and then gradually take over what he has built.