The Korean car company Hyundai has become a big seller in the United States - and plans to get a lot bigger.
Hyundai has had to deal with a public image of low quality cars. It's done it by improving quality and promoting its Hyundai Advantage warranty, at 10 years the longest in the business. The senior analyst for the marketing and research firm, Auto Pacific, Inc., Jim Hossack, says they're succeeding.
"They appear to be on the right track. Every indication we have is that the vehicles are, in fact, better," he says. " And, better vehicles ultimately result in better image and better reputation."
Hyundai's rapid sales growth is impressive, but Robert Cosmai, vice president for national sales, says the past is merely prologue.
"Our short-term sales goal is, by the end of 2005, to be selling a half-a-million vehicles [a year] in the United States," he explains. "I don't know if you know it or not, but the only importers that sell more cars than we do are Honda, Toyota and Nissan. We moved ahead of Volkswagen last year, Mitsubishi and Mazda. So we feel it's within our goal and we're trying to sell over 400,000 this year."
An important factor in Hyundai's aggressive growth in the United States is the decision to build an assembly plant near Montgomery, Alabama… A billion-dollar investment that will bring 2,000 jobs with it when production begins in 2005. Robert Cosmai says the Alabama facility represents his company's commitment to this market.
"I think any major importer now that distributes products, especially in the U.S., should be building a good percentage of their cars where they sell them," he says. " All the other manufacturers, the Toyotas and the Hondas, have done so and I think it makes us a little bit larger and it's perceived more as a mainstream product. But it's very important that we have a [manufacturing] presence here."
And where does Hyndai want to be five years from now?
"We're hoping our brand continues to strengthen and be perceived as any of the mainstream players, like Toyota and Honda," says Mr. Cosmai. " We look at them as the benchmarks on the import side of the business. We would like to strengthen our perception in the marketplace that buying a Hyundai product will continue to be a great value. But also that we've got some of the newest and most innovative products in the marketplace."
Five years ago, Hyundai if it was noticed at all received little serious attention from the American auto industry. As the company accelerates toward the half-million annual sales mark, they're not being ignored anymore.