Hyundai Formula: Inconspicuous Luxury Plus Empathy

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It’s hard to believe, but the US economic recession has been a boon for South Korean automaker Hyundai. The economy car maker has not only secured its market share, but topped its August 2008 sales by 47 percent (while total industry sales were up 1 percent). The company has shown good stewardship of its customers and product line, making trust and reassurance integral to Hyundai’s brand identity.

But how did Hyundai change its image as “a reasonable alternative to purchasing a used car” to a modest alternative to Lexus and Cadillac?

This year, Hyundai has been buoyed by the success of its new higher-end model, the Genesis,  The company’s first $30,000-plus sedan won Car of the Year honors at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Its sales were bolstered by “inconspicuous luxury” consumers wanting to appear “that they, too, are cutting back,” the New York Times reports.[more]

Hyundai showed empathy with its “Assurance” campaign, a one-year promise to buy back new Hyundais from customers who became unemployed. This shrewd marketing was hailed as “truly innovative” in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2009 report, and “struck a chord with the market in the midst of the economic downturn,” humanizing the automaker.

Hyundai then rolled out an “Assurance Plus” warranty, which paid the lender the equivalent of 90 days of a loan or lease payment. This summer it let customers partake in the Cash-For-Clunkers program three weeks before the government program began. It’s no wonder the manufacturer sold 60 thousand vehicles last month alone.

Now, as customers become more acquainted with the brand and develop trust (an important X-factor in this economy) the brand looks to expand amid encouraging forecasts. Autoconomy.com has declared Hyundai “a competitive threat not just to the Big Three but for the first time to the Japanese automakers as well,” as the company sets a goal to have the highest fuel economy by 2015 and plans to open their second assembly plant in the United States.

As the automotive industry reinvents itself, it must focus on environmentalism and economy. More successfully than its American counterparts, Hyundai is steering towards those goals.

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