Hyundai Motor Group has evolved far beyond the Hyundai Excel's shaky start in the U.S. market way back in the mid-1980s. For the second year in a row, the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands dominated J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study.
For the Korean automaking giant, it puts trophies in the case, which can help the group's marketing and advertising staff. But if Hyundai Motor Group has so outclassed the rest of the industry when it comes to building nearly perfect vehicles, the three brands should be synonymous with quality among the auto-buying public.
That they're not — at least not yet — is a lesson in the lasting nature of first impressions. And every automaker with aspirations of competing in the U.S. — especially the new Chinese entries — needs to study closely.
When Hyundai came to the U.S., Toyota and Honda had already differentiated themselves in terms of quality from U.S. automakers. The Detroit 3 paid a steep price for ignoring vehicle quality when the Asian automakers arrived, and arguably the lesson didn't really sink in until the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors.
While all automakers have improved, Hyundai and Kia's transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. Yet brand reputations move at a glacial pace — in part because many consumers are wary to try new brands because of trepidation about reputation, deserved or not.
Today, quality is rightly the minimum expectation of consumers. This industry has decades of manufacturing prowess, and people expect their vehicles to work reliably.
To change consumer minds, Hyundai and Kia put their reputations on the line with industry-best 10-year/100,000-mile warranties, and have stuck with them. Yet the brands' vehicles, despite what is now years of direct evidence concerning their quality, still have the lowest average U.S. transaction prices among major automakers. And the group, No. 7 in sales in the U.S., saw its market share slip a tenth of a percentage point last year.
In Hyundai Motor's difficulties changing perceptions, Chinese and other global automakers should learn: No one can afford to stumble out of the gate, as Hyundai did. This is especially true in the social-media era.
You want to play in this market?
Bring your A-game from the jump.