In 2009, when the world caved in, Hyundai was one of only three brands to increase U.S. sales. One explanation: the Hyundai Assurance Program, a wow-factor promotion that would merit a place in the auto marketing hall of fame, if such a thing existed.
With the economy on the rocks in January 2009, TV commercials featuring Jeff Bridges calmly guaranteed customers they could return their new Hyundai without denting their credit rating if they lost their jobs. Last week Hyundai canceled that deal -- "a sign of a recovering economy," said U.S. sales boss Dave Zuchowski.
At the time, the offer seemed gimmicky and risky. Take back cars if buyers lose their jobs, at a time when everyone seemed to be losing jobs? But only 350 Hyundai customers turned back vehicles.
And the publicity was golden. For competitors, it was a forehead-slapping moment. General Motors and Ford soon copied Assurance. Would Joel Ewanick, the Hyundai marketing boss who spearheaded Hyundai Assurance, be running GM's global marketing today without it?
"It kept Hyundai relevant in a pretty crappy economy," says Dennis Bulgarelli of consulting firm Compete Inc. "They've been on a pretty good run for the last two years, and that was the thing that I think really got them going."