When Japan's national soccer team travels to its first match in the 2002 World Cup against Belgium on June 4, it will do so on board a Korean vehicle.
Japanese carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi sponsor teams in Japan's soccer J. League. But they have no connections with the World Cup. Instead, Japan's national team - and every other nation's team - will be transported to the stadiums in Hyundais.
As the sole automotive official partner for the World Cup, Hyundai will ship 500 cars to Japan just for World Cup use. Of those, 200 will be top-of-the-line XG sedans for use by Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) officials, and 100 will be Trajet minivans for teams' use. A mixture of other models will make up the remainder.
World Cup visibility is a big opportunity for Hyundai in Japan. After selling 1,113 cars last year, its first full sales year in Japan, Hyundai aims to sell 5,000 this year, not counting the 500 World Cup cars.
Those who test-drive a Hyundai qualify for a drawing to win tickets to World Cup matches. That's no small incentive given the high ticket prices in Japan. A pair of tickets for the final costs E1,100 from official sources.
Still, there has been no major advertising campaign - yet. Hyundai Japan won't start its advertising push until a week or two before the first game. But on April 2 Hyundai launched a new sporty model, the Coupe, known in Korea as the Tuscani.
'Before the big event, we wanted a sporty car to fit the image,' said Synn Myung-shik, president of Hyundai Motor Japan.
'Quality is the main point we want to convey, and then our low price. With the World Cup, we will try to raise our image' in Japan, said Hidetsugu Koike, assistant manager in Hyundai Japan's marketing department.
For their part, the Japanese carmakers are ignoring this invasion of their home territory. Perhaps they think that traditional Japanese consumer dislike of foreign products will keep Hyundai from benefiting too much from its World Cup role.
The World Cup is held every four years. Matches for the 2002 event are being staged in both Japan and Korea. Neither country particularly likes the idea of co-hosting the tournament, and there has been a lot of bad feeling about the arrangement.