At Hyundai, the champagne is getting chilled

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
Sometime in November, Hyundai will bust its U.S. sales record.

And later, when the numbers are tallied for the entire year, the party hats probably will be passed out and the corks will start popping on the champagne bottles at the company's operations in Korea and the United States.

The new sales record could be a whopping 75,000 vehicles over the past mark of 467,047, set back in 2007.

Hyundai's on a roll. In the first nine months of the year it sold 410,047 vehicles. That's an average of 45,560 vehicles per month. At that rate, Hyundai could end the year with 546,000 vehicle sales.

It's a remarkable turnaround for a company that in 1998 barely sold 90,000 vehicles here. Back then “experts” predicted the company eventually would pull out of the United States. No one would take the Koreans seriously after Hyundai's quality problems with the Excel in the 1980s, issues that haunted the automaker throughout the 1990s and beyond, they reasoned. Hyundai was the target of jokes.

Hyundai aggressively targeted all of its problems. Over the decade Hyundai's quality dramatically improved. Today, Consumer Reports recommends some of Hyundai's vehicles. Sales no longer are driven by price. Buyers want to own a Hyundai.

The styling theme that debuted on the Sonata this year is a head turner. Hyundai had to expand Alabama production this year to keep up with Sonata demand. Nearly 150,000 Sonatas were sold during the January through September period, a remarkable number.

Hyundai also has gone upmarket. The Genesis, a near-luxury sedan, has been well received by the press. Prices creep above $40,000. And this year Hyundai is launching the Equus, a low-volume $60,000 sedan aimed at Audi, BMW and Mercedes buyers.

All of this was accomplished in 12 years.

No one is laughing about Hyundai these days. Hyundai is viewed as a serious competitor that is no longer making mistakes.