Demand Outpaces Supply for Hyundai in U.S. Says CEO

Hyundai led in sales growth in 2010, hitting an all-time record of more than 538,000 vehicles with a 24% hike as the overall industry grew by 11%.

Hyundai is ramping up production in the face of growing U.S. demand but will likely not be able to build enough vehicles to satisfy all prospective buyers, the head of U.S. operations said.

"Our challenge is going to be can our plants supply what we think will be a remarkable consumer demand," John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, said on Jan. 10 on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.

The Korean automaker has been expanding rapidly in North America since it opened its first U.S. plant in 2005. Its Montgomery, Alabama plant, which has a maximum capacity of 300,000 vehicles a year, was able to increase production by about another 100,000 units after sister Kia Motors opened its first U.S. plant in West Point, Georgia.

On Jan. 10 Hyundai introduced its funky new three-door Veloster coupe set to hit showrooms later this year and a hipper crossover "concept" dubbed the Curb.

And in a sign of the growing importance of the U.S. market, Hyundai Motor vice chairman Eui Sun Chung was on hand to unveil a new brand statement: New Thinking. New Possibilities. "Hyundai is not just a company that makes cars. Hyundai is a company that creates new possibilities," Chung said during a speech at the motor show.

"Our goal is not to become the biggest car company. Our goal is to become the most-loved car company and a trusted lifetime partner of our owners."

The Korean automaker has been expanding rapidly in North America. Much of Hyundai's growth has been spurred by its entry into new segments like sport utility vehicles and a luxury lineup. "There are other new segments that we'll be entering in the future," Krafcik said.

"Right now we're represented in segments that account for two thirds of industry volume. Five years ago, it was a little over half of industry volume."

Hyundai also managed to put any lingering quality concerns to bed with the industry's first 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

But what has most impressed analysts is its ability to grow in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in decades.

Hyundai's U.S. sales rose 8% in 2009 -- the year overall industry sales fell 21% to the lowest level since the recession of 1983 and General Motors and Chrysler were forced into a government-backed bankruptcy.

Hyundai continued to lead in sales growth in 2010, hitting an all-time record of more than 538,000 vehicles with a 24% hike as the overall industry grew by 11% to 11.6 million vehicles.

Its market share has grown from 3% percent of the U.S. market in 2008 to 4.6% in 2010.

Hyundai's recipe for success is simple, Krafcik said.

"It seems like common sense, but there aren't a lot of cars that deliver really great engaging demand and the best fuel economy in the segment."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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