The next-generation Hyundai Genesis starting to arrive in showrooms to take on the likes of the BMW 5 series features taut, stately sheet metal that wraps a leather-bathed interior trimmed in matte-finished real wood, and a sticker price topping $51,000 for the 420-hp V-8 edition.
And it's taking its place barely a car length away from the entry-est of entry-level vehicles, a $15,000 Hyundai Accent, with cloth seats, a CD player and 1.6-liter four-banger.
What's wrong with this picture? Nothing, Hyundai executives say.
In fact, they say selling the Genesis and the $60,000-plus Equus luxo-yacht under the same brand and from the same showrooms as economy cars such as the Accent and Elantra is paying dividends for the brand in a few different ways.
The industry's obsession with brand positioning has long enforced a strict separation between luxury vehicles and the mass market, cleaving Acura from Honda, Infiniti from Nissan and Lexus from Toyota. BMW won't put its cars in the same showroom as a Mini. Mercedes-Benz and Smart live separate lives. Volkswagen's Phaeton flop stands out as a cautionary tale.
But at Hyundai, executives say, they have found a way for luxury and mainstream offerings to peacefully coexist, vindicating a strategy that was tested out with the introduction of the previous Genesis and the Equus in Hyundai showrooms.
Dave Zuchowski, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, says forgoing a separate luxury channel eliminated the substantial capital investment required to launch a new brand and the burden of generating enough volume to justify it. Customer service initiatives to pamper luxury buyers have broadly improved customer satisfaction for the whole brand, he says.
Zuchowski admits there are downsides for the brand but says the strategy is the right one for Hyundai. "We looked at it, we acknowledged it, we accepted it and felt the pros far outweighed the cons."
One major challenge: Simply getting into the conversation about luxury vehicles. Without a distinct luxury badge, and the cachet that comes with it, Hyundai will be hard-pressed to reach the many luxury customers who demand exclusivity.
"There are some people that we're never going to get, and we accept that," Zuchowski said.