NEW YORK -- So far, the post-Joel Ewanick era at Hyundai Motor America is working out pretty well -- although it's clear the marketing executive's innovations are still paying dividends for the Korean automaker.
After its best-ever March sales, which wrapped up its best-ever first quarter sales, which led to its best-ever April sales, Hyundai on Wednesday announced an all-time May sales record, its 17th consecutive month of year-over-year increases and its best share month this year.
The sale of 49,045 vehicles in the U.S. was a 33 percent increase versus May of 2009; global sales were up 19 percent. Overall, year-to-date sales of Hyundai cars are up 23 percent in the U.S. compared to 2009.
Ewanick, named marketer of the year during his Hyundai tenure in 2009 by Advertising Age, an affiliate of Automotive News, left the company in mid-March of this year to take over the marketing at rival Nissan.
But he only lasted at Nissan for six weeks before accepting an offer from General Motors Co. last month to become vice president of marketing.
Chris Perry, head of brand planning at Hyundai since 2000, took over in the wake of Ewanick's departure and was officially named vice president of marketing on May 12.
Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at the auto research firm Edmunds.com, said the results are a compliment to both Ewanick and Perry.
"They've done a lot of great advertising over the last few years, and right now they have a lot of good things to talk about, so marketing certainly plays a role in that," she said. "Other companies have to work on slicker marketing because they don't have the product to back it up. Hyundai has both."
'Appealing to customers'
Perry could not be reached for comment, but in a statement Hyundai Motor America vice president of national sales Dave Zuchowski said, "As we continue to refresh and expand our model lineup, we are clearly appealing to customers who have placed Hyundai on their shopping list for the very first time.
"This considerable broadening of our customer base comes at a time when we are continuing to reduce our fleet mix, thus improving the overall quality of our market share."
Part of Perry's responsibilities when he served as brand planner for 10 years was to help launch new models. Fueling the May surge in sales for Hyundai were whopping increases for the new Sonata and the Tucson -- 92 percent over last May for the former, and 227 percent over May 2009 for the latter.
"That mid-size segment is doing very well right now," Caldwell said.
Still, the work that Ewanick did at Hyundai can't be discounted.
Last year he developed the wildly successful Assurance Program, which guaranteed that customers could return their purchased vehicles with no credit implications if they lost their job. Ewanick also introduced the Assurance Gas Lock Program, which guaranteed buyers a set gas price of $1.49 a gallon for a year.
It remains to be seen if Perry will be as equally innovative and aggressive as Ewanick was at Hyundai.
Overall, it was a good month for the auto industry and a hopeful sign that the economy is beginning to recover. Hyundai's sister company, Kia Motor America, had May sales increases of 20.6 percent year-over-year. GM was up 17 percent, Chrysler 33 percent, Ford 22 percent and Nissan 25 percent.
Toyota, still working to overcome its recall issues from earlier this year, had May sales increases of 7 percent compared to May of 2009.