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Hyundai remains on Genesis watch

Next time: The coupe version of Hyundai's Genesis is on the wishlist for Australia, should a right-hand-drive model be built in the 2011 facelift.

Image-leading Genesis sedan and coupe could headline Hyundai’s brand push

6 Nov 2009

HYUNDAI is confident Australians are ready to embrace a large luxury sedan and coupe from the burgeoning Korean brand, but the acclaimed Genesis flagship remains at least two years away from gracing local showrooms.

Repeated requests for a right-hand-drive Genesis to be produced for Australia have gone unanswered, and Hyundai Australia says the earliest possibility for the brand’s top-shelf two and four-door model to come here is a midlife facelift due in 2011.

“We never take no for an answer and we’ve had no given to us many times in regard to Genesis, but we’re still pushing,” says Hyundai Motor Company Australia sales and marketing chief Kevin McCann.

“We’ll keep grinding away at it and the next big opportunity for us is when the car comes up for its midlife facelift. If we can get in early and say we’ll take that car then there might be some consideration of adapting it to right-hand drive.

“The facelift is 12 to 18 months away, so if it (RHD) happens it will be late 2011, rather than early. And I think it’s still a pretty big if,” he said.

Mr McCann said that despite a News Limited report to the contrary, Hyundai has not confirmed a right-hand-drive version of the facelifted Genesis, meaning Australians may have to wait until the next generation of the model that was voted car of the year in the US.

“On a simple reverse engineering basis it’s simply too expensive – you have to piggyback on to other engineering processes associated with it,” he said.

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“I know what my hopes are and they are quite high, but they really haven’t said this is the car please choose you specs from this list.

“That information has never been provided to us – I haven’t got any concrete advice,” he said. “We’re looking at it. We’d love to have it but we just haven’t had a positive response to our pleas.”

Mr McCann said that if it received a green-light, the RHD Genesis would come here in both sedan and coupe body styles – badged as a Hyundai rather than a new sub-brand to rival the likes of Toyota’s Lexus, Nissan’s Infiniti or Honda’s Acura.

“I think there’s a place for both sedan and coupe,” he said. “Of course it depends on the positioning, but if the American positioning can be cross referenced then I think there’s a place for both cars.

“Genesis is still a Hyundai. The company has been through the process of looking at a premium brand and have actually decided against it. That decision might be changed in another generation of leadership, but for now the Genesis will be a Hyundai.”

HMCA marketing manager Oliver Mann accepts criticism that Hyundai is a brand without a flagship, but is adamant that regardless of the facelifted Genesis’ local fate, Australians would eventually have access to Hyundai’s well received flagship.

“We believe Australians are ready for a more expensive Hyundai, but it won’t happen in 2010,” he said. “Genesis sedan coupe and the Veracruz (luxury SUV) are currently left-hand drive-only and we don’t know yet for how long.

“We’re talking to our parent about the possibility of them coming to Australia, but I’m not in apposition to announce anything.

“There is no question that in five years we’ll be selling into more new segments, but if we move too much (on price) too early that will be our downfall,” said Mr Mann.

Hyundai will move significantly upmarket in three market segments early next year, when the European-designed i20 hatchback will join the aged but top-selling Getz light-car, the similarly more expensive ix35 will replace the top-selling Tucson compact SUV and the mid-sized Sonata sedan will be superseded by an all-new model codenamed the YF.

The following year will likely host the arrival of a five-door sportwagon-style sibling for the four-door Sonata replacement, plus an affordable two-door sportscar based on the Veloster concept, as a belated successor for the discontinued Tiburon – both of which should also place Hyundai at more premium price points than ever before.

The December release of the facelifted, all-diesel, all-AWD, all-seven-seat Santa Fe medium SUV range will bring with it a top-shelf version that increases Hyundai’s highest pricetag in Australia to $48,490.

The Genesis would have to be positioned above the Grandeur (if it is still sold here), but Hyundai has struggled to sell any significant numbers of its flagship sedan, sales of which are 50 per cent down this year.

The Grandeur competes directly with large homegrown sedans in Holden’s top-selling Commodore, Ford’s Falcon and Toyota’s Aurion, plus the imported Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima and Volkswagen Superb, but despite the addition of a diesel version, which tops the range at $41,990, Hyundai’s current flag-bearer has found just 45 Australian homes this year, including only two in October.

However, Mr McCann says the Grandeur is not an appropriate yardstick against which to measure Hyundai’s ability to sell into premium vehicle segments in Australia.

“Grandeur still has a few fans out there. Last year was difficult because we changed the engine line-up. This year was more difficult.

“We’ve chosen not to invest money in Grandeur, but because we have it we keep it in the line-up and stock it in line with the sales chart. Most of our dealers have one and I think that it’s not a car that we should necessarily distract ourselves with - we’ve got other more important things to do.

“I prefer to get YF (medium sedan) up and running to make it a more significant part of the business than I would Grandeur. If we can get that up and running I think we could readdress the Grandeur problem.

“Medium is an easier market for us to address than large sedan, which has got many fewer players, three of which are locally built, two of which have a very nostalgic association in the Australian consumer’s mind that’s difficult to crack.

“All of them have preferential purchasing policies for large organisations, not just government, and that’s also hard to crack. So for us to try to crack that with something like Grandeur means we’ll only get a few of the crumbs but very little substance,” he said.

But Mr McCann admits that until recently Australia was not ready for a large rear-wheel drive V8 coupe from Hyundai.

“Two years ago I would have said no, but there’s been such a development of the brand in the last two years that if we did theoretically get such a car within the next two years then by the time we got it then yes.”

Hyundai says the ‘glass ceiling’ for its model range has increased significantly in recent years, from $15,000 for its original Excel, to $25,000 for the Tucson and now $35,000 for the outgoing Sonata and Santa Fe.

HMCA product communications and public relations manager Ben Hershman points to the more expensive model mix of the popular i30 small-car as evidence of Hyundai’s improved brand value in Australia.

“The fact is that a large number of Australians are still either active or passive rejectors of the brand,” he says. “There are people who traditionally wouldn’t look at a Hyundai car.

“But i30 broke that mould and attracted a large proportion of first-time Hyundai buyers. People who bought the Excel have changed. The brand perception has changed in 10 years.

“I30 was the pinnacle point. We knew we had a very good product coming so we invested in marketing and training. The strength of the product started to see positive response from the media and we started getting people coming into dealerships that would never have come in before.

“I30 for us has been a success story and has outsold Getz for the last two months with more than 2000 cars a month, and we now sell a strong mix of (top-spec) i30 SRs.

“So as our products develop and desirability improves we will be more confident to bring a high-series version of the ix35 to rival high-series versions of its rivals.

“Go back five years and we had a price spread of $2500 from bottom to top. With i30 we took a step we’ve never taken by putting $4500 between the (entry-level) SX and (flagship) SR. And it has worked exactly as we’d hoped in terms of model mix.”

Speaking just days before Toyota followed Honda’s decision to abandon its Formula One program, Mr McCann poured cold water on the prospect of Hyundai taking a further brand marketing step by entering local motorsport at a national level.

Hyundai’s Australian sales chief hosed down pitlane speculation the brand could enter V8 Supercars alongside Holden and Ford from 2012 – despite appearing to have the perfect vehicle with which to do so in the Genesis - now that Toyota has confirmed it will not become the high-profile local series’ third manufacturer.

“The company doesn’t yet have a motorsport direction,” he said. “We think it could benefit from a motorsport direction but that’s something that would have to come from Korea.

“There seems to be a assertion that motorsport is relevant… spin-offs and street versions of the cars add cache and panache to the brand. It comes back to the street-cred issue.

“But it would have to be something with global relevance rather than something as localised as V8Supercars.

“It’s a logical fit but there have been no substantial discussions - no approach from anyone involved in V8Supercar on a business basis.”

Mr McCann revealed Hyundai was ready to push the button on a World Rally Championship assault a couple of years ago, since which Subaru has departed WRC.

“I think they’d reactivate that before anything else – that’s a more likely direction to take. F1 and WRC are really the only two global motorsports.”
What’s coming from Hyundai:
Santa Fe facelift December
ix35 compact SUV early 2010
i20 hatchback range early 2010
YF medium sedan mid-2010
Veloster-based coupe late 2010
VF medium five-door 2011
Genesis coupe and sedan late 2011

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