Don Reilly, owner of Fairfax Hyundai in Fairfax, Va., has attended every Hyundai make meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention since the franchise was established in 1986. And this year's meeting, over which he presided as chairman of Hyundai's national dealer council, was the longest, most crowded and upbeat.
'The No. 1 central theme of the meeting is that Hyundai is back,' said Reilly in an interview afterward. 'It was our most positive make meeting ever.'
Part of the reason is that sales are up, and dealers seem to have more confidence in the future of the franchise. Hyundai's retail sales last month were up 54 percent over retail sales in January 1998. For the month, Hyundai reported only 78 fleet sales.
'That means dealers are selling cars and enjoying greater profitability,' Rei-lly said. 'Dealers recognize Hyundai as a very valuable franchise.'
Dealers at the make meeting asked for additional Sonatas and Elantras. Hyundai executives said they will deliver more cars but will be careful not to laden dealers with too much inventory, said Finbarr O'Neill, Hyundai Motor America CEO.
This year marks the first time since the Hyundai franchise was launched that the South Korean automaker exhibited at the NADA convention. Hyundai displayed the concept version of its Santa Fe sport-utility, which goes on sale in spring 2000 against the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.
The display drew crowds, including several dealers interested in signing up for a Hyundai franchise. Hyundai currently has 465 dealers and plans to expand the dealer network. No goal has been set, but the company has identified 31 markets where it might add points, said Bob Cosmai, vice president of sales.
Dealers praised Hyundai for continuing its ad campaign, a successful series of ads featuring testimonials from owners.
'In the past, Hyundai would launch an advertising campaign, then stop it and go with something else the next year,' Reilly said. 'This year, they are continuing the campaign, making it better and putting more money behind it.'
For the year, Hyundai will boost ad spending 15 percent, though executives would not say how much will be spent. The money will be used for national TV advertising as well as in Hyundai's 29 key markets, which represent 64 percent of its sales volume, said David Weber, vice president of marketing.
To bolster its image further, Hyundai has increased its public relations budget and has hired a public relations firm, Paine and Associates in Irvine, Calif.