Wednesday, May 28, 2008

You First

Decades ago, the Japanese stormed our shores offering more for less. More quality, features, innovation and value. Now they dominate the automotive industry and Toyota is soon to be the world's largest automaker.

The transition was not instant however and for years Japanese product was considered cheap, unpatriotic or both. Once Honda, Nissan (then Datsun) and Toyota established beachheads here, consumers discovered that the Big Three weren't responding with adequate product.

The tipping point was reached and the Big Three were left scrambling.

Meanwhile, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda readied bold plans to move decidedly upmarket with their respective Lexus, Acura, Infiniti and Amati brands. Acura had a hit with the Legend, Lexus was close behind with the ES and LS while Infiniti almost completely failed with an ill-fated zen-influenced ad campaign and the wrong designs. Mazda's effort was stillborn leaving dealers miffed, but also leaving them with a pretty good car, the Millenia.

Now Hyundai, quietly working in the background has been making better and better cars and making claims along the lines of "7-Series space at a 3-series price" but failing to deliver the cachet to reach their own tipping point. Reviews are generally good but Hyundai's just aren't cool yet.
Autoblog recently spent time in Korea driving pre-production versions of the new Hyundai Genesis. This is the car that, according to Hyundai, will usher in a new era of luxury. Them's big words, and we only got a limited amount of time to figure out how true -- or not -- they were. But the main thing you need to know about the Genesis is this: unless they pull a bait and switch on the price range they mentioned, the car will be worth every penny Hyundai charges.

The current Hyundai lineup offers nice-enough looking designs, especially at the top end with compelling offerings coming soon in the 300-plus HP Genesis sedan and coupe. Hyundai offers a ten-year, 100K power train warranty and a five-year, 60K vehicle warranty - both on par not with Honda and Toyota but rather with Acura and Lexus.

Hondas and Toyota's weren't cool at first either but their respective luxury brands gained traction immediately. What made the difference? Novelty? Did it have something to do with the mindset of baby boomers in the late 80's?

In any case, I am intrigued with Hyundai's efforts and yet have no desire to own one. They are all very nice looking cars - save the Hyundai nameplate. It's simple. They're not cool yet. Time will tell whether they can elbow their way into the marketplace. In the mean time... first.

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