Hyundai is ‘on my shopping list’

It’s not a matter of recovering after the recession for Hyundai. It’s a matter of keeping the pedal to the floor.

The South Korean automaker has been on a steady upward trajectory in the North American market for the last decade. In 2010, its vehicle sales in the United States jumped almost 24 per cent over their previous peak in 2009. In Canada, they were up nearly 15 per cent.

“We’ve got about a third of American car buyers right now saying ‘Hyundai is on my shopping list.’ Our retail market share last year was 4.9 per cent. That’s a nice situation,” Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Krafcik told journalists last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

With 7.6 per cent of the market in Canada last year, Hyundai is creeping up on Honda.

The company has so far ascended on a vehicle lineup that lacks a pickup truck, minivan and large crossover. Despite this, Hyundai has made significant gains at the expense of its competitors.

“We’re equal opportunity market share poachers. We’ll take it from anyone,” Krafcik joked.

Hyundai’s sales pitch to Americans was bolstered in 2005 when it opened its plant in Montgomery, Ala.

“Last year, we sold 538,000 cars total in the U.S. In 2011, we’ll have the capacity to build 400,000 cars in the U.S. — Elantra, Sonata and Santa Fe,” Krafcik said. “Some of those go to Canada, but we’ve got a really significant percentage of our sales built in the U.S. and we’re going to continue to try to grow that going forward.”

Meanwhile, vehicles like the Veloster compact coupe that made its debut at the Detroit auto show will be built at the company’s mammoth plant in Ulsan, South Korea.

The funky little Veloster, which arrives in showrooms this summer, and an edgier concept “urban activity vehicle” with a wraparound tinted windshield, called the Curb, reflect Hyundai’s current mantra: “Smart challenger of convention,” Krafcik said.

That means consulting consumers as much as “car guys” when it comes to designing its vehicles, he said.

“I think we do a lot more (consumer) research than other car companies, and one statistic I like to quote is Genesis had over 1,000 consumers inputting on the design before we put that car to production. We ended up completely redoing the exterior sheet metal, which is unheard of, even before the car went into production, because we weren’t happy with what consumers said about that car.”

The Veloster, aimed at 16 to 29-year-olds, had a slightly less dramatic makeover. It first appeared as a concept vehicle in 2007 with suicide doors that opened toward the back. When consumers were asked for their opinion they told the company they wanted regular doors.

So that’s what they’re getting, along with lots of smart technology that appeals to Generation Y and fuel efficiency of roughly 40 miles per gallon on the highway, Krafcik said.

The Veloster also has a unique third door that makes it easier for passengers to get into the rear seat. It is expected to be in dealership showrooms sometime this summer.

“You’re going to see more and more of this from us in the future,” Krafcik promised.

Photograph by: Hyundai, handout