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Interview with Hyundai's John Krafcik - Part 2 of 3

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John Krafcik with 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

Hyundai America CEO John Krafcik with the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

Photo © Aaron Gold

In part two of our interview with John Krafcik, newly-appointed Acting President and CEO of Hyundai America, John discusses the thinking behind the Genesis nameplate and the future of Genesis products.

Jump to: Part 1 - Part 3

AARON GOLD: Alright, the Genesis brand.

JOHN KRAFCIK: Yeah.

AG: So the Tiburon's gone, you've got this great new sideways rear-wheel-drive coupe that you're giving the same name as your cushy, comfy Lexus fighter. Setting aside our --

JOHN KRAFCIK: "Cushy comfy Lexus fighter"? Who's positioning it like that? That sounds like Aaron Gold's positioning. We never use the term "cushy".

AG: No, I know, you use "rear-wheel-drive performance." That actually leads to another question... The Genesis sedan is, to me, more of a comfortable car than a performance-oriented car. It's more of a Lexus or a Mercedes than an Infiniti or an Audi. What's wrong with that?

JOHN KRAFCIK: Nothing's wrong with that, but I think it is more than that. I think any car that can do 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, as the Tau Genesis can do, and any car that can handle as well as that car can do, and we've got a lot of data showing it does very well versus cars like the Infiniti M and the more performance-focused Lexus models. I'm not talking about the LS. And BMW 7-series. I mean, I think it is credible. And I think that when people come to see this car, their first impression is always "Oh, Hyundai's trying to copy Lexus." And I think sometimes that impression is difficult to overcome. But if there were some way that people could drive a car blindfolded, if we could put them in a Genesis and have them drive it versus the competitive set of large flagship premium sedans like the BMW 7-series, like the Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS and Infiniti M, I am certain that they would put Genesis on the sportier side of that group as opposed to the softer side of that group. The whole idea with Genesis, and what we're doing with the family of Genesis products, is simple. It's shorthand at Hyundai for rear-wheel-drive, premium performance vehicles. And we think it works wonderfully. We talk about, and I don't know if you saw the Super Bowl ads where we kind of combine the Genesis sedan with a little tease of the Genesis coupe, but they are, I think, nicely paired products. They kind of complete each other. They represent, I don't want to call it a sub-brand, but a family of products that differentiate themselves from the rest of the products in the Hyundai lineup, first and foremost by their rear-wheel-driveness.

AG: Their rear-wheel-driveness?

JOHN KRAFCIK: Rear-wheel-driveness. I made up that word.

AG: I haven't driven the Genesis Coupe yet. Seen it, looked in the interior, [and] it seems to me to be going in a very different direction then the Genesis sedan. Everybody seems to get their back up when I talk about the Genesis [sedan] being more luxurious than sporty, because, I mean, it's a fantastic, luxurious car.

JOHN KRAFCIK: We think it's both. You can be both. It has a very premium interior, but the car is also very engaging to drive.

AG: You can be both, but that's the thing... taking Hyundai out of the picture, if I wanted to have fun on a curvy road, I'd buy an Infiniti G. If I wanted to take a trip down to San Diego, I would buy a Mercedes E-Class. I would not mix them. I don't know that I agree... this is turning into your interview of me.

JOHN KRAFCIK: How did that happen?

AG: Getting back to the question a lot of readers sent me -- I swear it's not just me, the readers are saying this -- it seems that the path you guys are forging is for a Genesis brand.

JOHN KRAFCIK: Well, I think for sure the path we're forging is for a family of rear-wheel-drive products that will share a Genesis nameplate.... We call it a grouping strategy. You see it also with Elantra and Elantra Touring, right? Elantra was a product that was focused from a development point of view for the US, Korea and China markets. The Elantra Touring was a variance of that platform really focused for Europe. And when we decided to bring that product to the US, because we thought -- you know I'm a big fan of wagons and two-box design. We thought it made a heck of a lot more sense to just share the Elantra nameplate, and kind of extend that brand. It's very expensive to develop new nameplates. And when you can find ways to group them together, especially for a brand like us -- I mean, Aaron, we're a 3% market share brand. Three percent. We have ten models. And each of those names is extremely expensive to nurture and grow. So, with Genesis, we thought, you know what? They're the same platform, they're both rear-wheel-drive. If we add another rear-wheel-drive car to our lineup, it's going to share a Genesis name as well. And we can build a little -- sub-brand is too strong a word, I prefer "family". It's a family of products that kind of share that kind of DNA that's a little bit different from the rest of the Hyundai lineup.

AG: I wonder what sort of third product might have a Genesis nameplate on it.

JOHN KRAFCIK: Well, let's think about what the possibilities might be, and then perhaps you or your readers could give us some feedback. One idea which we've talked about is, in the Korean domestic market, we've had for some time a kind of an uber-flagship vehicle called the Equus ["eh-koos"]. There is now a variant of that coming to market in Korea that's kind of a long-wheelbase super-Genesis. We are looking at the possibility of bringing that to the US market. It would be a relatively low-volume vehicle. That is one possibility. We've also got studies ongoing, other variants of the rear-wheel-drive platform. When you have a rear-wheel-drive platform you want to use it as often as possible, to help amortize your costs. So we've looked at higher H-point, higher seating position variants. You can imagine a vehicle like an Infiniti FX. We've studied products like this one. That one also may be a little bit further away, but [it's] something that we're thinking about. And then we've also had the discussion, what about a pure and proper two-seat roadster rear-wheel-drive vehicle, which is also something that we're looking at. Aaron's giving me two thumbs up on that one.

Continued on next page...

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