Detroit — Hyundai’s new U.S. chief executive vows to boost sales by 4 percent after a “disappointing” 2013 in which the Korean automaker didn’t unveil any new models and lost market share.
Chief Dave Zuchowski said in a Detroit News interview on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show that his goal is to make sure Hyundai isn’t seen as a “one trick pony.” He vows “slow and steady growth” and compares Hyundai to the children’s fable “The tortoise and the hare.”
“It’s really important that people don’t think that Hyundai was a flash in the pan that isn’t repeatable,” Zuchowski said. “Hyundai was overheated, but certainly not a flash in the pan.” The company was once dismissed as low quality, low priced models, but has made dramatic gains over the last five years. “Sales is an outcome of building a brand.”
Zuchowski learned last month he would be replacing John Krafcik as Hyundai’s top U.S. executive — about 30 minutes before the company issued a press release announcing the surprise move. “Probably the two most surprised people were John and myself,” Zuchowski said. “It’s not something that I saw coming.”
Hyundai finished 2013 with 721,000 U.S. sales — up 2.5 percent over 2012 — and plans to sell 745,000 in 2014 — a 4 percent increase in an overall U.S. market that it expects to rise 3 percent — which means Hyundai’s U.S. market share would go from 4.6 percent to 4.7 percent in 2014. Hyundai’s retail sales were down in 2013 in part because of an older lineup. Last year, Hyundai had no new products — the first time in five years.
“We weren’t particularly happy because we gave up market share,” he said in a Detroit News interview ahead of the company’s reveal at the North American International Auto Show of its new Genesis. “My biggest priority is to make sure the Hyundai of 2011 and 2012 wasn’t seen as a one-trick pony and the Hyundai of 2013 wasn’t seen as a trend and that we get ourselves back on sustained growth and incremental market share going forward.”
He said Hyundai’s market share gains in 2011 and 2012 were “overheated” because of the “tired” products of competitors and the Japanese tsunami.
Zuchowski, who has been executive vice president of sales at Hyundai and joined the company in 2007, says the company has no plans to build any new U.S. plants. He said Hyundai may boost Sonata production in Alabama and may take Elantra production down — and get some additional Korean-built Elantras — as a way to boost overall U.S. sales as it introduces a new version.
Hyundai at the end of 2013 had a 58-day supply of vehicles at U.S. dealers — or about 125,000 vehicles — well above its typical 18-to 22-day supply, and virtually no stock at dealers at the end of the year. “We can start with decent levels of inventory,” Zuchowski said. “It will sustain sales right away.”
Zuchowski said he understands the company, where it needs to go — and that he is not an “unknown” to Hyundai’s Korean leadership. He called his promotion a “fairly typical executive succession plan... five years is a pretty good run for a CEO of Hyundai — five years is a pretty good for a CEO of anybody.”
The company had a reputation for firing execs who couldn’t meet “unhittable objectives,” Zuchowski said. “We’re so far removed from that,” he said. “After five years it’s time to hear new things and see a new approach.”