Hyundai has had many things going for the brand lately, including unprecedented industry-leading scores in important measures of product quality, a successful upscale move with Genesis and Equus premium sedans, and the recent inking of a new deal that will make it the primary automotive sponsor of the National Football League beginning this fall.
But at the same time, Hyundai’s recent performance hasn’t reflected all of those positive developments: Sales were up just 1.8 percent this year through June.
The main problem? About 80 percent of Hyundai’s sales have been sedans—at a time when the American vehicle buyer increasingly is looking for crossovers and sport-utility vehicles. Its lineup of three SUV models was relatively weak.
Coming to the rescue now, however, is a substantially overhauled new version of the Hyundai Tucson SUV that is best known for starring as the rescue vehicle in The Walking Dead.
Hyundai is launching the significantly improved 2016 Tucson in dealer showrooms this month with high hopes that the model will begin immediately to improve its fortunes in the crucial compact-SUV segment where staunch competitors include the Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
“It’s incredibly important,” David Zuchowski, Hyundai’s US chief, told brandchannel. “It provides us with a very competitive product in the fastest-growing segment in the industry.” The new vehicle “is a brand new car, better in every way, very competitive and offering high value” in the Hyundai tradition.
Indeed, the new Tucson offers improved mileage, segment-leading passenger roominess, sleek new typing and requisite technological advancements including a 5-inch touchscreen display with rear-view camera inside, and LED headlights outside.
Hyundai hasn’t yet hatched its marketing plan for the new Tucson, but it willl have to go big: Zuchowski wants to build about 90,000 Tucsons annually by next year, compared with just about 45,000 of the old model annually for the past six years.
Overall, Zuchowski believes he’s got the brand moving back in the right direction in the US, just about 18 months into a tenure that with the departure of his predecessor, John Krafcik. He has continued the Korean brand’s long-term plan of stretching the marque to cover everything from budget small cars to the performance Genesis and pricey Equus nameplates.
“That’s been very important to us,” Zuchowski said. “Genesis in particular has had an amazing impact on the perception of our brand and our ability to compete on a global scale.”
Expect to see Hyundai’s upcoming marketing for Tucson leverage its impressive showing in the most recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, in which Hyundai and Kia aced out every other brand in the US market, including all of their vaunted Japanese rivals.
Zuchowski also hinted that it will bring its NFL sponsorship into play in interesting ways. “There are lots of different ways that activation could go,” he said. For example, the league is “concerned with head injuries, and we’re concerned with occupant safety. There might be cool ways we could sponsor research with the NFL.”