Aggressive Hyundai keeps Winterkorn looking over his shoulder

Douglas A. Bolduc is managing editor of Automotive News Europe
It's understandable why Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has a watchful eye on Hyundai and Kia. South Korea's two largest automakers are likely to finish 2010 with a combined 4 percent gain in European sales while VW Group's volume is likely to drop by 4 percent.

Hyundai and Kia also expect to boost vehicle global sales a combined 10 percent this year because of the launch of 12 new or updated models and rising demand in China and other emerging markets.

Sales may rise to 6.33 million vehicles, Chung Mong Koo, chairman of the two carmakers, said Monday. The companies sold a record 5.74 million vehicles last year, a 24 percent increase from 2009.

By comparison, VW expects its 2010 deliveries to exceed 7 million vehicles for the first time, compared with 6.29 million cars, SUVs and vans sold in 2009, and aims to sell more than 8 million cars by 2012.

Winterkorn, who is pushing VW to overtake No. 1 Toyota in unit sales by 2018, told German news magazine Focus last year that he sees Hyundai-Kia as a dangerous competitor because of its improved quality.

Winterkorn and Hyundai's Chung also are involved in a tight battle for supremacy among auto executives. Chung slipped two places to fifth in U.S. magazine Motor Trend's latest Power List. Winterkorn kept hold of fourth place in the 2011 ranking.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally was No. 1, after finishing second on the 2010 list. VW Supervisory Board Chairman Ferdinand Piech, who is Winterkorn's boss, dropped to No. 2 after leading last year's ranking. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn climbed 11 spots to finish third.