April was the coolest month for Hyundai Motor Co.
In the United States, the Hyundai brand topped Toyota in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study.
Once a byword for badly built cars, Hyundai finally broke through. It was as if Yugo had shot past Mercedes on the Power charts. Everyone knew Hyundai's fit and finish had improved, but here was a sensational stamp of approval.
Hyundai was all but chased out of the U.S. market a decade ago because its cars were put together so poorly. So how did it scale the heights of the study?
Executives say the Power turnabout reflects an extraordinary effort inside the company in the past five years. And they fall all over themselves crediting Hyun-dai Motor Co. Chairman Chung Mong Koo for leading it.
They say Hyundai took a series of steps to improve quality. But more than just processes, executives say, Chung changed the culture at Hyundai.
One thing he did, executives say, is put engineers in charge of the company. For the first time in the automaker's 37-year history, four of the five top managers are technical men.
Chung, 67, and Vice Chairman Kim Dong Jin, 52, are engineers. So are Kim Sang Kwon, 58, the r&d president; and Jeon Cheon Soo, 58, president of Hyundai's Ulsan plant.
"Engineers know how to make better quality cars," says Shin Jong Woon, executive vice president of the Hyundai-Kia Quality Manage-ment Division. "This kind of personnel lineup is unprecedented in the history of Hyundai Motor. Before Chung Mong Koo became chairman in 1999, most of the top managers were the graduates from business colleges."