Two, Hyundai never forgot the middle and working classes. In the dark days of the Great Recession of 2008, the South Korean car company did what too many U.S. politicians and corporations failed to do. While our government was handing out bank-bailout money sans meaningful prosecutions for wrongdoing, and companies nationwide were delivering pink slips to their employees, Hyundai was giving middle- and working-class people in this country a break — assuring them that if they lost income through no fault of their own after purchasing a new Hyundai, the company would allow them to return the vehicle and back out of the deal with no blemish on their credit rating.
More than that, Hyundai promised to welcome back those once financially troubled buyers with excellent products and new-vehicle financing once they were restored to solvency. That combination of compassion, innovation and now-world-competitive product quality has helped Hyundai — which began producing cars in 1967, decades after its major rivals — become the fourth-largest automaker in the world in terms of sales. That’s fourth based on 2010 sales numbers, after Toyota, General Motors, and Volkswagen.
For the past two years, Hyundai, formerly the laughingstock of the global automotive industry, has been the world’s fastest-growing car company in terms of sales. A concrete example of how Hyundai achieved that success is the vehicle of today’s conversation, the completely redesigned 2012 Hyundai Azera “common luxury” sedan.
I use the term “common luxury” to codify Hyundai’s theory that those willing to spend $32,000 for a large family sedan should get a heck of a lot more than prestige for the money. They should get world-class safety, fit and finish, world-competitive exterior and interior design, and world-class performance (ride, acceleration, braking and handling).
The 2012 Azera offers all those things at a base price of $32,000, easily price-and-content competitive with models such as the 2012 Acura ILX (with technology package), BMW 328i, Buick Regal and Lucerne, and Lexus ES350.
I suspect, based on conversations with Hyundai officials and others in the auto industry, that labor costs have much to do with Hyundai’s pricing advantage. Hyundai has some of the lowest employee-compensation packages in the car industry. But if its assembly workers in Asia and at the U.S. Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala., are upset over their pay, their discontent so far isn’t showing up in Hyundai’s product quality.