Turning the auto industry on its tail by offering the best warranty deal on wheels, Hyundai has managed to get our attention once again. So has the person brave enough to head up a Korean company in the United States, a gent with the name of Finnbar O'Neill, Hyundai’s president for the past year.
The reputation of Hyundai cars suffered public floggings in the early 1990s due to quality problems, and sales spiraled downward. Heavy rebates were offered, which angered dealers. In addition, the factory was turning out cars in colors no one ordered or wanted to buy and adding options willy-nilly.
Today, Hyundai is experiencing one of the fastest turnarounds and restoration of consumer confidence in recent history. How? By strict quality control, better marketing campaigns, re-examination of its target markets, and that generous 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years or 60,000 miles.
Back in the bad times, dealers were selling fewer than 10 Hyundais a month; today, it's closer to 100 a month and increasing. Sales are up 68 percent, and by the end of December, more than 160,000 units will have been sold this year.
In America, Hyundai is considered a tiny company that sells budget-priced cars. But back home in Seoul, Hyundai is one of the world's biggest and most diversified business organizations, including operating the largest automobile manufacturing company on the planet and selling its models in 190 countries.
In spite of its size, Hyundai makes small cars for the United States. Its lineup is limited to subcompacts and compacts, with just one midsize model. The company isn't even getting into the phenomenally successful sport-utility segment until the spring. But dealers are scrambling now to get the 2000 models on their showroom floors.
Hyundai's new message has caught fire faster than anyone anticipated, and by the end of next year, more than 500 dealerships will be selling Hyundai sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs.