Hyundai vice chairman touring U.S. operations this week

UPDATED: 2/18/14 8:23 pm ET - adds Chung's arrival

TOKYO -- Hyundai Motor Co. Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, heir apparent to South Korea's Hyundai-Kia automotive juggernaut, is touring the company's volatile U.S. operations this week.

It is Chung's first trip to the key market since Dave Zuchowski took over as CEO of Hyundai Motor America on Jan. 1.

A spokesman said Chung arrived at Hyundai's assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency described the trip as a field inspection aimed at building a fire under sales.

The vice chairman, the only son of Hyundai-Kia chairman and patriarch Chung Mong-koo, is also expected to drive home the push to improve quality, Yonhap said. Besides his visit to the Alabama plant, Chung also is expected this week at the company's North America headquarters and sales office in California.

The visits this week underscore Hyundai's redoubled focus on rekindling business in one its most important markets.

The U.S. market is Hyundai's second biggest after China. Last year, U.S. sales of 720,783 units accounted for about 15 percent of the 4.73 million vehicles Hyundai sold worldwide.

Zuchowski has said his goal is to stabilize the company's wild ride in recent years. The brand was an industry darling from 2009 through 2012 by posting stellar sales growth: 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.

In Alabama, Chung was expected to evaluate efforts to improve quality and efficiency, Yonhap reported, citing unnamed company officials. The California leg will prioritize devising a plan to boost sales, it added.

The Hyundai Division's U.S. sales rose 1 percent to 44,005 units in January, in an overall industry down 3 percent. Market share rose to 4.4 percent, from 4.2 percent the year before.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the location of the company's manufacturing plant. It is in Montgomery, Ala.

You can reach Hans Greimel at -- Follow Hans on Twitter: @hansgreimel

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