Hyundai, Kia zoom toward U.S. sales milestone

Hyundai has come a long way in the U.S. market since the Excel came out in 1986. The automaker vowed to bring better products to the market -- and it did. Photo credit: Hyundai
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

This month the Koreans are poised to set a significant sales milestone in the United States.

Specifically, combined sales for the Hyundai and Kia brands likely will top 1 million units!

In fact, sales likely will end around 1.1 million for the year, compared with last year's 894,496 vehicles.

More than a decade ago, most of Detroit had written off both brands as serious competitors. Back then the memories were fresh of the Hyundai Excel debacle in the late '80s, a vehicle that was the poster child for poor quality. And Kia had just two models in its lineup.

Six or seven years ago, I had a long conversation in South Korea with one of Hyundai's vice presidents. He admitted that Hyundai had made mistakes and had underestimated American car buyers' expectations. The next round of redesigned vehicles would have quality equal to the Japanese, he promised, adding that he hoped Americans would give Hyundai a second chance when the new models debuted.

If Hyundai failed with the vehicles debuting from 2006 to 2010, he said there was little or no chance Americans would give Hyundai a third chance.

He was right.

Not only did Hyundai improve vehicle quality, it created vehicles with styling that turned heads, along with pricing and a long standard equipment list that made the vehicles a good value. Finally, Hyundai and Kia began a new-product blitz.

The sales numbers tell the story of the brands' success in the United States. Through October Hyundai sold 545,316 vehicles. Kia tallied 405,095. Total sales through October for the two brands combined was 950,411 vehicles.

Compared with the January through October period last year, combined sales are up 26 percent. And when you compare this year's 10-month period with 2009's, sales are up a staggering 50 percent.

Simply, Hyundai's and Kia's sales pace has been fast and furious.

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