2023 ALL STAR | INDUSTRY LEADER
Executive chair, Hyundai Motor Co.
Hyundai Motor Group used to be known as a fast follower. The Korean carmaker didn't necessarily set trends or pioneer technologies, but it could quickly match the moves of rivals.
These days, the massive motor group — with its stable of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands — has blossomed into an industry innovator. Under Executive Chair Euisun Chung, the juggernaut is putting the "new" in new mobility with global leadership in a slew of tomorrow's technologies.
His vision and pivot toward the future are among the reasons he was selected among Automotive News' 2023 All-Stars as the Industry Leader of the Year.
Chung, 53, is putting the world's third-largest auto group on the map for electric vehicles and hydrogen power, in addition to luxury cars and purpose-built vehicles for fleets of future pod cars.
Throw in advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and urban air mobility for good measure. Chung is even coining the phrase "metamobility" with his vision for transportation in the metaverse. His concepts are bold, futuristic and abstract — a "Mobility of Things" that covers movement in all forms, from traditionally inanimate objects to community spaces.
Hyundai Motor Group expects to pump some $50 billion into new tech this decade.
Scion to the motor group's founding family, Chung had a relatively low profile on the global stage until recently. But behind the scenes, he has quietly transformed the company since taking the helm in 2020 when his father, Mong-Koo Chung, stepped back from daily operations.
That transformation came into clear focus when the sweater-clad Euisun Chung outlined his vision in his annual new year's town hall meeting at the company's Namyang R&D center.
"We will not fear risks and only be reactive to changes. Instead, we will lead the future by being one step ahead and create opportunities out of crises," Chung told employees. "2023 will be the year we establish 'trust by taking on challenges and making a new leap through change.' "
But Chung is not only pushing into new fields, he is supercharging the carmaker's bread-and-butter business in automobiles. Case in point: a radical ramp-up of EV investment and production.
Kia expects its global EV sales to climb to 1 million vehicles in 2026, accounting for 25 percent of its global shipments. It targets 1.6 million EVs in 2030, for about 38 percent of its overall sales.
Hyundai expects to sell 2 million EVs a year by 2030, accounting for 34 percent of production.
Group sales in the critical U.S. market climbed 14 percent through October, outpacing the industry. And the upstart Genesis premium brand, the launch of which Chung led in 2015, saw its deliveries soar 25 percent through October. Genesis is now a formidable force in the upmarket segment, rapidly expanding sales, launching EVs, opening standalone stores and leading various quality rankings.
In one key measure of the group's future-focused tilt, Genesis this year led J.D. Power's Tech Experience Index, a gauge of owner satisfaction with EVs and other new technology. The brand topped the list for the third-straight year, while Hyundai ranked second and Kia finished sixth.
Meanwhile, Chung has prioritized design at all three marques, giving designers freedom to flex. The fetching new design languages are racking up accolades and turbocharging sales.
In just a few short years under Chung's tenure, the trio has become aspirational, cutting-edge brands that exude a "Cool Korea" vibe. The dramatic metamorphosis has erased memories of Hyundai-Kia's old reputation for making frumpy econoboxes of questionable quality.
Chalk up the success partly to Chung's youth. On the global stage, he is still relatively young compared with other captains of industry. Chung has created a flatter culture at the traditionally hierarchical company, empowering employees for greater creativity and faster decision-making.
And armed with an MBA from the University of San Francisco, he also injected a more international perspective at Hyundai as it ventured out globally.
Chung isn't shy about seeking outside assistance to spur the group's modernization. Among his hires was former Nissan executive Jose Muñoz, Hyundai's regional head and global COO.
But Chung blends his youthful open-mindedness with the experience of running a family business at the foot of his father, now the honorary chairman.
Euisun's grandfather Ju-yung Chung, a former rice merchant turned mechanic, founded the company after World War II, setting in motion one of Korea's most important conglomerates.
Mong-Koo, one of the founder's eight sons, built the company into a global giant.
Now, as third in line, Euisun's mission is to transform the business for an era of upheaval and rapid change. In accepting his promotion in 2020, he underscored the family lineage.
"By inheriting the sublime achievements and entrepreneurial spirit of our two former luminaries, we will together contribute to the national economy and further promote the happiness of humanity," he said in his inauguration speech.
The pieces of Chung's big-picture strategy fell into place over the last year with a diversified approach, covering the traditional industry and a future industry filled with technologies still taking shape. While many old-school automakers are struggling to make the transition, Chung is leveraging Hyundai Motor Group's size, talent and creativity to blaze a new path.
Pride in the past
Yet with Chung's ascent comes a rediscovered pride in the Korean carmaker's humble origins. The company this year celebrated the debut of the Hyundai Pony Concept at the 1974 Turin Motor Show by rebuilding a copy of the sleek, wedge-shaped sportster.
The original never made it into production, but it spurred the development of the brand's line of Pony nameplates.
They were South Korea's first independently developed mass-production models. While unveiling the Pony rebuild in June, Chung said he still draws inspiration from that heritage.
"In an age when artificial intelligence and robotics have a profound impact on the way we live and work, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the core purpose of the company and the direction of our future," Chung said. "In seeking the answer, we looked back at our roots and what made us the company we are today."
— Hans Greimel