SAN FRANCISCO -- Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski gave dealers at the make meeting last week more details of his plan to get Hyundai back on the growth track after a slowdown in 2014.
The plan hinges on a more consistent marketing message. Hyundai parted ways in late 2014 with marketing chief Steve Shannon, then revealed a plan to shift resources from regional advertising to give Hyundai a bigger voice in national media.
Hyundai's U.S. sales rose 1 percent last year to 725,718 vehicles as the industry expanded 6 percent overall.
"It was a record year in 2014, but we were not happy with it," Zuchowski told Automotive News after the make meeting, citing Hyundai's paucity of trucks and a muddled marketing message. "We understand exactly what the problem was, and we have very, very concrete plans in place to address it."
In the short term, Hyundai will offer added incentives and richer trim packages for the soon-to-be-redesigned Elantra, the Korean brand's best-selling U.S. nameplate. "We know it's a fiercely competitive segment, and we need to sell that vehicle down on a smooth basis," Zuchowski said.
In the long run, Hyundai wants more trucks. Zuchowski told dealers the company is getting positive feedback on the Santa Cruz, a pickup concept built on a crossover platform and unveiled last month at the Detroit auto show.
He said 2,000 employees from U.S. dealerships replied to a survey about the Santa Cruz, mostly in favor, and executives in Korea were "abuzz" when Mike O'Brien, Hyundai's U.S. vice president of product planning, traveled to visit the company's Korean executives last week.
"It sounds like it's full steam ahead," said Adam Kraushaar, president of Lester Glenn Hyundai in Toms River, N.J., and chairman of the Hyundai National Dealer Council, said of the Santa Cruz.
Hyundai also introduced dealers to Sam Suh, the new CEO of Hyundai Capital America, the parent company of Hyundai Motor Finance and Kia Motors Finance. Before taking his post in January, Suh was head of overseas business for Hyundai Capital America's Korean-based parent company, Hyundai Capital.
Suh told dealers that Hyundai will offer discount financing for returning lease customers to keep them in the fold.
Hyundai dealers interviewed after the meeting were largely optimistic.
"We need to regain our retail share, for sure," said Blake Underriner, a manager at Underriner Motors in Billings, Mont., and son of 2012 NADA Chairman Bill Underriner. "We've got some great models coming out this year, and that's a positive step."