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Hyundai's Genesis of self-confidence:
The grill badge

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  February 5, 2009 02:38 PM

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The fishtailing, tire-burning yellow coupe that flashed on television during the first round of Superbowl commercials wasn't a Camaro, a Challenger, or anything remotely European. Most football fans were likely surprised at the Hyundai logo that appeared 20 seconds into the ad as the car slid maniacally in full opposite lock.

Unveiled in New York last year and seen as a concept in 2007, the Genesis coupe isn't new to car enthusiasts, nor are tease and suspense to automotive advertising. But during the initial hype of its Genesis sedan - the first Hyundai ever to cross $40,000 - the South Korean marque grasped the elements of surprise and bewilderment better than any automaker. The marketing folks can almost hear you saying, "That's a Hyundai?"

So far, it appears to be working. Total North American sales dropped just 14 percent last year, and the company reported a 14 percent year-over-year increase in January. The powertrain warranty is one of the best in the industry, and now Hyundai is letting buyers exit their leases without penalty.

But in spite of the J.D. Power awards, brand perception remains a big thorn in the company's side. The absence of a grill badge on the Genesis sedan, just like the prior XG300 and current Kia Amanti, makes this painfully obvious: that Hyundai lacks the self-confidence to charge premium prices.

Dave O'Brien, a Hyundai marketing manager who used to work for Lexus, is honest about the company's challenges.

"We have a negative brand image in this country," O'Brien said to the New England Motor Press Association last fall. He said Hyundai had planned to start a luxury division after the likes of Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura, but that it would have cost an estimated $10 billion.

Instead, Hyundai has focused on improving its dealers, which O'Brien described some as "absolutely pathetic" at customer service. But, he added, "when you started where we started from, the only way is up."

The Genesis coupe, wearing its "H" emblem with pride, is a step up. The racy silhouette is similar to its prime competitor, the Infiniti G37, but unlike the Genesis sedan, it's not a blatant mash of designs from other automakers. It's also unrelated to the front-wheel drive Tiburon, and Hyundai deserves a hand for making the Genesis a rear-wheel drive platform. Hats off, too, for the coupe's optional limited-slip differential and a 306 horsepower 3.8 liter V-6. Pricing will likely start at $25,000 for the 210 horsepower four-cylinder and north of $30,000 for the V-6 when both models arrive this spring.

Expensive, yes, but if Nissan and Volkswagen are any example, Hyundai will march upward in the market without alienating its core base of thrifty customers. Check back in five years for the results.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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36 comments so far...
  1. One auto company that's actually on the right track. Hyundai just keeps surprising everyone. The other asian companies may want to watch their backs.

    Posted by boss8120 February 5, 09 03:45 PM
  1. If I were ever in the market for a luxury car, Hyundai would not even enter my mind as a viable choice.

    If I were in the market for a car I didn't care about getting scratched, dinged up, etc...Hyundai would be my choice.

    Sure it might have a great warranty but aren't they just guaranteeing that you're buying a piece of crap car?

    Posted by Tom February 5, 09 04:23 PM
  1. Some brand logos really shouldn't be on their upscale models anyways. Take Ford for instance. Without the blatent blue cartoonish oval, the current Taurus might have gotten a second look. The badge might stand the test of time but look really half-fast when paired with something a bit more classy than a sticker that adorns a truck. I don't think it has to do with pride, but practicallity. The Genesis sedan's rib-cage grill is by far one of the most interesting on the market.

    Being an owner of 2 roadsters and a sports luxury coupe, this Genesis coupe just doesn't do it for me. I actually preffer the look of the current Tiburon. Now if they could blast up the class on those and town down the wings and cheap interiors they would be beautiful.

    Posted by MX-5/Crossfire/Riviera February 5, 09 04:53 PM
  1. Actually, Tom, our Hyundai was one of the most reliable and well-built cars we have ever owned (we have owned Fords, an Audis, VWs, a Honda, and a Volvo). The company has a good warranty because they can stand behind it, not because they are interested in throwing money away fixing problems.

    Yes, they used to stink. Now they don't. (Kind of like the Boston Bruins, I guess.) We currently live in Europe, and the Hyundai brand has no such trouble over here. It's a North American perception, for whatever reason.

    Posted by Cugeno February 5, 09 06:49 PM
  1. um...did you say 'similar' to the G37 coupe? try its ugly evil twin. Although everyone knows imitation is the highest form of flattery, Hyundai shows once again its sheer lack of unique design capabilities. For those who don't know any better, the exterior is a COMPLETE rip-off of the G37 coupe...how is this legal/allowed? When I blow by one of these things, I'll be sure they get a good look at the real mccoy, my G37S coupe.

    Posted by Gman February 5, 09 08:01 PM
  1. Hyundai/Kia are the up and comer in the business. This is not the Hyundai Excel from the 80's, or the Kia Sportage from the 90's. Against those cars, I'd rather have bought used.

    That's the problem with image--it stays around for a while.
    But, now they have improved product, a killer warranty, and the blessing of Consumer Reports on both reliability and product, they will grow market share.

    Posted by Steve February 6, 09 08:41 AM
  1. It may look similar to a G37 at quick glance but if you truly like your Infiniti coupe I wouldn't mention the two looking alike.

    Even the Genesis coupe concept was ugly as sin. I'll give it props for being unique but then again no other brand would attempt such a design that has soo many design element that are not harmonious. It's static. Some people are going to find this steering away from the classic tradition of beauty....refreashing?!

    I dunno, I just can't get past that weird window design. It's just odd.

    The G35 and G37 have been reviered as some of the most attractive coupes on the market. Do your car a service and don't comare the two; it makes your car look bad.

    Posted by 02Thunderbird February 6, 09 09:19 AM
  1. Because of the gas prices and my gas guzzling car, I bought a 2009 Hyundai Sonata about 7 months ago and absolutely love it. We have a large sedan but find we use this car much more frequently. Love the gas mileage, too - about 33 mpg. I have owned Volvos, Mercedes and Lincolns, and I'm quite happy with the quality and drive of this car. I think people do Hyundai a disservice by judging it on past years - this is a new age car! The powertrain warranty is also a comfort.

    Posted by Pat February 6, 09 10:48 AM
  1. i have owned a 2007 hyundai azera since july of 2007. it is a limited with xm with interior features as good as any premium vehicle and performance to match. the suspension system for that year is probably a 5 on a scale of 10, its only negative but the warranty is unprecedented. it is maddening to me that they don't advertise this vehicle but they have decided, evidently, to put their budget into the genesis.

    Posted by cmfl February 6, 09 11:37 AM
  1. I own a 2008 Azera. Not one issue so far in 20k+ miles. Absolutely a fabulous car

    Posted by SC February 6, 09 12:29 PM
  1. Yes, Hyundai has made leaps and strides this decade. I'm the proud owner of an '06 Sonata and have had 0 problems. People laughed a little when I tell them what I got, but once I give them a ride they think it's as smooth as luxury car.

    Remember too that when Japanese cars were new to North America, they were horrible too just as the Hyundais were in the 80s/90s. Now you're going to have to get used to re-training your brain to think that these Korean cars are actually more reliable than the Japanese ones and they will only continue to get better.

    Posted by JulesDaGreat February 6, 09 01:52 PM
  1. Tom -

    You apparently have never owned a Hyundai! We have a 2001 with 96K miles on it. We have never had any major problems with it. The car has been rear ended, has a few dings and bangs on the exterior but just keeps on going.

    We just bought a 2008 Hyundai and I love driving it. Sure, not the most fancy (plastic interior not great) or fast car, but who needs that. I don't have to go from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds, sorry. And you just can't beat the warranty!

    The early Hyundai cars were not good but now that are great, reliable cars.

    Posted by dd February 6, 09 02:06 PM
  1. Hyundai is a joke of a car. They will never touch BMW, Mercedes or Lexus. Remember the original ones (rust buckets) that came to the US with donut tires. Hyundai will never get rid of that image!!!!!!!!!!!!

    BMW, Mercedes and Lexus wear their emblems proudly.

    Posted by Anonymous February 6, 09 04:02 PM
  1. I have a 2005 Hyundai Sonata and I love it! Over 90,000 miles and no problems, haven't even replaced the exhaust system yet and the rear tires are original! I can't wait for them to come out with a Hybrid. In these tough, economic times, I want a reliable car. American dealers should take a page from Hyundai's book, they're doing things the right way. Oh and I do love the new Azera, I think it's pretty sharp! I just wish it was a Hybrid.

    Posted by SkiBum54kme February 6, 09 04:14 PM
  1. Hyundai is making some really nice cars these days.
    I would not pay2 cents for a POS V W . My wife had two Jettas they both were in the shop more than the driveway. big thing was electrical problems. I still notice Jettas out there with one rear light out what a POS

    Posted by mat from Norwood February 6, 09 04:16 PM
  1. After owning an Acura TL and a Lexus, I bought a 2008 Azera with a bit of trepidation due to the Hyandai brand. After 19,500 miles, I still love it. Not one problem - and every one of my friends is amazed at its comfort. Hyandai has to figure out how do a better job at marketing and improving its North American image.

    Posted by CRA February 6, 09 04:21 PM
  1. Well said Tom...I would never consider Hyundai...The Genesis being called luxury is just as stupid as a Kia or Le Car luxury car...its not a luxury car...its just an overpriced car....If they want to be taken seriously, maybe its time for them to create another division....I despise Hyundai because every one of thier car designs is a knock off of a better car....Of course there will be people that like it because they just dont know any better.

    Posted by EJFX February 6, 09 08:05 PM
  1. I shocked myself buying a 209 Sonata in December. My family and friends love at are amazed it's a Hyundai. I only went to look because the same owners owned the Toyota dealership next door. I Would never go back to my previous car, a Ford (4 transmissions). Take a look you'll be surprised!

    Posted by phil February 6, 09 08:23 PM
  1. I've owned only Hyundais since 1980 and I am a loyal and happy owner. However, my next car may not be a Hyundai if they don't develop a hybrid or electric model. I've been waiting six years and won't wait much longer. BTW, my 2002 Accent has 100,000 and is still going strong.

    Posted by Cliff McCarthy February 7, 09 08:22 AM
  1. Hyandai has done a wonderful job turning company around. The image that they had gotten themselves is a hard one to break. This company should be a example to anyone out there to witness. They did it backwards unfortunately. They build a very good quality car now. They should have done this to start and there image would not be so hurt. Never the less it should be a example of what CAN be done.
    Made in the USA used to mean quality as well. Detroit took care of that. They started taking profits instead of putting back into R&D. Greed has killed the automakers, and I am not sure they will ever make it back. I have owned American until I just bought a Infinity. Why?? Cadilac does not give loaner cars.. All thdo, so Cadilac has chosen not to compete correctly. Gotta say the Caddy was the best auto I have ever had

    Posted by jdtrans@gmail.com February 7, 09 09:03 AM
  1. The reality is that Hyundai is an extremely reliable car, among the most in the industry. Completely turned around from the 80's. They wouldn't have the crazy long warranties if their cars weren't more reliable than most, it would make no fiscal sense. Regardless, the image issue has stuck. I have never owned a Hyundai, and sad to say, partially because of the image issue, despite my knowing it really is a better car than most nowadays - far better than any American car, and comparable in reliability to Honda (check Consumer Reports). A name change, like Datsun did to Nissan, might serve wonders - that Hyundai logo just embodies a negative perception, one that is unlikely to go away, since the high quality has been there for so long now.

    Posted by Jeff from Boston February 7, 09 01:23 PM
  1. How we all forget the years of when buying a Japanese product meant buying a cheap product with poor quality. Japan's auto industry turned the corner by utilizing Deming’s rules on quality in manufacturing; call it the early years of six sigma. Although Deming is American, the American auto industry did not feel they needed such quality but Japan embraced Deming's rules and now they are the standard for quality cars. Today the talk of a Korean auto maker who has implemented six sigma practices and we are questioning if they are on the right track or can product a luxury car.

    Before I bought my Sonata I ran numbers on quality, cost of repairs in the first five years and other metrics. All numbers were even or better than Honda and Toyota. In the end my Sonata cost me $7,000-$10,000 less than a Camery or Accord at the same level. This is my third year with no problems.

    Where I manage engineers, I asked during a team meeting tell me about Hyundai and their thoughts on the product quality. Most engineers over 30 thought the car quality was so-so for Hyundai, but the engineers under 30 all thought the cars were reliable, safe and lasted forever.

    The quality data and the changing opinions of Hyundai is why I bought my car and the reason we just traded in our Toyota Minivan for a Hyundai Minivan. Next year is my 40th and my plans to by a 5 Series have started to fade because I sat in the Genesis sedan last month and it is pretty sweet; if the test drive goes as well I think it will then I know where my money will go and hell I will have enough left over to boost the economy in other industries too.

    Posted by Keith February 7, 09 04:29 PM
  1. I just love it when ignorant people who haven't even looked at or discovered the facts themselves can call something a POS.

    Believe me, the Genesis is one beautiful car. I test drove it and it is not only the most comfortable car in the industry, I drove the V8 which can take on Porsche's in speed. They thought of every creature comfort you can pack in a luxury car. Its can hold its head against any mid-model BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. When I feel the economy is recovering and I am no longer worried about any job cuts, I will be trading in my Chrysler 300 for one of these babies... Oh, did I mention that you can get one for about 10 grand less than the equivalent luxury model mentioned above?

    So, before you spout off your opinion, test drive one then put in an intelligent reviews. Just remember.... Subaru's were once POS's themselves and they build a fine car (just not ones that I am interested in, but I know very loyal Subaru owners).

    Posted by KAM February 7, 09 08:13 PM
  1. Between my wife and my inlaws we have owned 7 Hyundai's. 4 Sonata's, 2 Accents and 1 Entourage, we have never had a problem with any of them. My 07 Sonata has blown the doors off a few unsuspecting hopped up Civic Pilots. Would buy a Genesis but the weather is too horrible up here in NH to thrash a quality vehicle like that.

    Posted by atciguana February 8, 09 08:01 AM
  1. Good luck to Hyundai.
    They're going to need it.
    The name of the company is too "foreign" to the average American.
    Billy-Bob from Palooka will always pronounce it "High-Yunday", and it will be tremendously difficult for the company to shake its well earned reputation as a purveyor of cheap knock-offs of Japanese cars.
    At the very least, they should change the name to "Hundai", but if they were really serious about transforming their image they would change the company name to "Genesis".

    Posted by tomboston191 February 8, 09 10:30 AM
  1. I am amazed that some people will refer to Hyundai in a negative manner without ever owning or even driving one. I traded a Lexus for a XG350, and even though it was not as "fancy", it had a better engine and drove great. my wife drives a Sonata with 35,000 miles on it and it has never been in the garage for repair. So, for those of you negative nay sayers, just shut up.

    Posted by Doc February 8, 09 05:35 PM
  1. And we're plowing $Billions keeping GM, Ford, and Chrysler alive? Shame on who?

    And the winner is . . . . the UAW?

    Posted by Jay February 9, 09 12:19 AM
  1. After 4 years of wasting my money on repair after repair on my Oldsmobile Alero, I was faced with a leaking antifreeze gasket and a question: spend the $800 to fix it, or just get rid of it. I did a little research, then promptly went out, found a used 2006 Hyundai Sonata, test drove it, and bought it that afternoon. 1 year and an additional 12,000 miles later, I still love it. I haven't had a single problem with it, unlike my GM lemon. Every passenger I've had has commented on its comfortable, roomy interior. It has a V4 engine with twice as much pickup as the V6 Alero I'd owned. I've always tried to support American industry, and it depresses me that the Big 3 have so severely shot themselves in the foot - I really hope that Chrysler, Ford, and GM can turn their business models around and start building better, reliable, fuel-efficient cars. But buying a "cheap knock-off" Korean car didn't bother me in the slightest - my car was built at the plant in Alabama.

    Posted by Mab February 9, 09 08:55 AM
  1. It's hard not to compare the new Genesis with anything but luxury brands cause that's all the car mags are doing. Not as an advertisement but to inlighten people that this car is an affordable premium vehicle that can run with the big names and not be ashamed.

    Last year when my friend got married, his friend from high school had just bought a new Sonata. And I had to admit, I was jealous, he was either my age or a year younger and had such an adult vehicle. But, looking in the windows I saw great plains of fabric and plastic. The Sonata, in my opinion, does not look that great in basic trim. But then again, what does. Still I was impressed at first sight. For my generation, Gen Y, Hyundai has been good to us. I mean we got the Tiburon, and they were pretty HOT!!!

    Posted by Dan February 9, 09 09:08 AM
  1. Hyundai has had some real lookers over the recent years. The XG mentioned above has some design elements similar to a Bentley and hols itself in a stately manner. A boss of mine had one and I had hoped to aspire to own one some day. And since its Hyundai, going on 4 years old, and used that's goal that can be easily reached, and they still look very dapper.

    The supermodel Azera, the racy-looking Tiburons, and even now with this amazing Genesis, Hyundai is appealing to those looking for somthing to get the neighbors jealous.

    Posted by Andy February 9, 09 09:18 AM
  1. For all those people who keep chiming in about the Hyundai never being on the level of BMW, Mercedes, or Audi, I'm sure they don't want to. Those brands, as nice as they are, are total junk after initial ownership. They have horrible reliability. I should know, I've owned 2 BMW's, both totally fell apart and 1 left me stranded more than once. I don't know one single friend or family member who has owned a BMW or Audi that can honestly say they didn't have reliability issues. I don't think anyone shopping these brands would look twice at a Hyundai, but the fact remains that just because you pay more for the car, doesn't make it a better car.

    Posted by boss8120 February 9, 09 04:16 PM
  1. A negative brand image? Not with me. I'm on my second Hyundai and I love their cars. I bought my first Accent new in 1999 and, almost 250,000 miles later, I traded it in to buy my second Accent this past June. That's right. Nine troublefree years. The only thing I replaced on my old Hyundai, beyond routine maintenance, was a single tie rod and the clutch. My new Hyundai is larger, roomier, more powerful, better equipped and it cost me under $10,000. New.

    Say what you like about Hyuindais...I'll continue to drive mine as it gets 40 mpg and goes through snow that leaves Mercedes, BMW's and other "top-shelf" cars off the road.

    Posted by Joel February 10, 09 10:37 AM
  1. It seems there are a lot of bitter luxury car owners that have probably poured far too much money for their ongoing genuine BMW/Mercedes service and parts. This is an opportunity to own a reliable luxury car without the obscene sticker price and ongoing maintenance costs. I have a 2000 Hyundai Tiburon (first car I ever bought) with 112K miles and nearly zero problems. I perform the routine maintenance (oil changes, brakes, etc) and it just keeps going trouble free. Laugh all you want at the Hyundai logo, I am laughing at all the money I have saved.

    Posted by Blitzwing February 11, 09 03:45 PM
  1. I must admit that at fifty years old I remember the first Huyndia;s they looked cheap, and did not perform very well. I bought a Scion XB 2005 for my wife and she loves it. Then I looked at the New Accent SE after driving it I must admit I was impressed with the ride,interior room, and quality. So far I have had the car one year and put on 20,000 trouble free miles. Yes you can spend more money, but that does not mean you get more car. I am 6'5" and have plenty of head room and the sound system kicks. For an entry level car, one of the best deals on the market.

    Posted by Wesley Earp July 17, 09 12:22 PM
  1. I seriously considered a 2009 Genesis sedan - was hugely impressed with the quality and ride. My biggest concern was customer service one expects when they buy a $40K-plus car. Would I get the same care I currently get at my Infiniti dealership at a Hyundai dealership that is accustomed to selling and servicing $15,000 Accents? I'm not a snob, but it is a legit concern when they are trying to compete with Mercedes/Lexus/Infiniti. The Hyundai dealers I visited were generally run-down and poorly appointed. Why did they not give greater thought to opening a separate brand? They ought to consider making Genesis separate dearships......

    Posted by Steve September 2, 09 12:03 PM
  1. ......I'm not sure if I'll ever own a Hyundai, all I do know is my 2002 Mercedes has over 250,000 miles on it, it never breaks, it looks good and runs great.......

    Posted by dmc September 2, 09 05:29 PM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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