DETROIT -- Hyundai's newly appointed U.S. chief wants to steer the company on a new course of modest, sustainable growth for the foreseeable future.
Dave Zuchowski, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, says he wants Hyundai to reclaim the peak of 5 percent market share that it hit in 2011, but more gradually this time -- with steady sales growth of 3 to 4 percent a year.
"It's very important for us to grow consistently and on a sustained basis," Zuchowski, who took over Jan. 1, said during an interview at the Detroit auto show. "Three or four percent per year for a lot of years is a really good way to go."
Key pieces of his plan include squeezing more crossovers out of its factories to boost market share in that hot segment and returning to a steady launch cadence of two major products per year.
The goal is to shake the volatility that has characterized the last several years at Hyundai. The brand was an industry darling from 2009 through 2012, posting gaudy growth numbers: 24 percent in 2010 and 20 percent in 2011. But with competitors back to full strength and Hyundai's production capacity limiting sales, growth slowed to 9 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013.
Zuchowski said he knew those double-digit growth rates couldn't be sustained, spiked as they were by external factors such as competitors' troubles and the vagaries of product schedules.
"We gained share when we had great new product at a time when our competitors were for the most part flat-footed or damaged," Zuchowski said.
On one hand, Hyundai was able to achieve 5 percent market share more quickly than anticipated. On the other hand, Zuchowski said, "growing 15 to 20 percent a year is very difficult for the supply base and our dealer partners and a lot of people to catch up with, and we experienced a little bit of that in 2011 and 2012."
As its growth moderated, Hyundai's has given back some of its gains, with share declining to 4.6 percent in 2013.
Regaining that market share will be a challenge and likely won't happen quickly because of capacity limitations. Also, Hyundai has fewer entries in some segments that are projected to lead growth.
• Launch cadence: Produce a steady flow of 2 products a year
• Sales efficiency: Sell cars more quickly to earn a higher share of global production
• Product mix: Increase availability of the Santa Fe and Tucson crossovers to satisfy demand
For instance, Hyundai is underrepresented in crossovers. It has just two nameplates, the compact Tucson mid-sized Santa Fe.
Sales of compact crossovers grew 23 percent last year, but Tucson sales fell 14 percent. The Tucson gave Hyundai just a 3 percent share of the compact crossover segment, compared to the brand's 4.6 percent overall market share.
"The Tucson has been terrific, but it's been frustrating because we can only sell 3,000 to 3,500 a month because of capacity," Zuchowski said.
Competitors are bullish on subcompact crossovers and plan to field new entries. Honda, for example, will introduce a crossover based on the Honda Fit subcompact this year. Zuchowski says Hyundai is considering entering the segment but has no firm plans.
Hyundai instead will focus on trying to sell more of what it does have: Tucsons and Santa Fes. Zuchowski said the company is working with parent Hyundai Motor Co. in South Korea to secure a larger piece of global production capacity.
Making that case will be a challenge, he concedes. Hyundai's average U.S. incentive spending has increased to compensate for its aging product lineup, and other regions of the world also have tighter inventories than the brand's roughly 60-day supply in the United States.
This year Zuchowski forecasts sales of 745,000, which would give Hyundai a 4.7 percent share if U.S. auto sales hit Hyundai's projection of 15.9 million.
"In the course of the next couple years, if you're looking at a 16 million market and a 5 percent share, that's 800,000 vehicles," Zuchowski said. "That's a good goal for us to shoot for. It's hittable, it's doable."