LOS ANGELES -- Hyundai Motor America named Brian Smith, a longtime Toyota and Lexus executive, as its COO, the company announced Monday.
The hire, which takes effect on Wednesday, comes just weeks after the U.S. arm chose a full-time CEO, ending a nine-month search. The two appointments begin to restore some stability to Hyundai Motor America's top ranks, which had been roiled by tensions with the Korean parent company in recent years over sales goals and production levels.
Smith, 58, retired as vice president of retail transformation at Toyota on Sept. 8, soon after Toyota finished moving its North American headquarters from Southern California to Texas. Before that post, he was vice president of Lexus marketing. He spent 35 years with Toyota.
In his new role, Smith will report to Kenny Lee, hired in mid-September as Hyundai Motor America's CEO, a role that had been filled on an interim basis by the U.S. arm's general counsel, Jerry Flannery, since the December ouster of Dave Zuchowski. Together, Smith and Lee will have a lot on their plate.
"Brian’s long track record of success in empowering organizations, driving change in future retailing and exceeding expectations make him the right person to help lead Hyundai and prepare us for the continued evolution of the auto industry," Lee said in a statement Monday.
Among Hyundai Motor America's challenges: declining sales, a protracted recall of just more than a million vehicles because of engine problems, a car-heavy production mix and a lineup of crossovers that struggles to match up well with larger vehicles from competitors.
The new leadership must oversee the development of a separate dealership channel for the Genesis luxury brand, a delicate process that will involve cutting off some Hyundai dealers who were authorized to sell Genesis products, and preparing others to support a brand identity and a stream of new products.