An automaker thinking outside the box — and getting noticed

February 7, 2009/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS FREEWHEELING BY HOLLY REICH

“At the end of the day it’s just exciting to watch this brand come alive,” said Joel Ewanick, vice president of marketing for Hyundai Motor America.
We were discussing the Hyundai Genesis sedan, recently named the 2009 North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show. In its 16th awards year, this was the first time the prestigious annual industry title was given to a South Korean automaker.
“This award validates our existence by some pretty cynical people,” Ewanick noted.
“Hyundai broke the existing hold for that segment of the automotive industry. They did a really good job at a luxury sedan and it didn’t take generations to get it right,” remarked Karl Brauer editor in chief of Edmunds.com.
But it was the Super Bowl that had Ewanick pumped. Hyundai hoped to get three messages out big time. The ads were profiling the upcoming spring debut of the all-new Genesis Coupe, plus the Genesis Sedan and Hyundai’s break-through Assurance Program. Called the “Contract” the ad and the message behind it got a lot of attention.
Advertising Age, (Feb 2, 2009) called it an honest-to-goodness big marketing idea. “With the Assurance program, Hyundai confronts the recession head-on and does something tangible to tackle its effects. The spot simply shows a few different Hyundai models, while a voice-over says:
“Whenever you buy a new car you have to sign a contract, but what about the company selling it to you — where’s their signature? Introducing Hyundai Assurance. Now finance or lease any new Hyundai, and if you lose your income in the next year, you can return it with no impact on your credit. Sound too good to be true? Come and see us, and we’ll put it in writing for you. Visit Hyundaiusa.com for details.”
The Assurance Program allows customers to walk away from a financing obligation when “certain adverse life events occur.” In other words, if you buy a Hyundai and lose your job, you can turn in your wheels (with restrictions, of course).
The idea for the program came out of a focus group Ewanick held in October of 2008. “We realized that people were getting concerned about the financial situation for 2009. They weren’t buying cars because they didn’t know what was coming to them.”
“We saw that the traditional tactics that car manufacturers use weren’t working,” he noted.
They pushed hard to come up with a plan that was completely out of the box. Lose your job and give back your new car? Come on now.
“If you think about what we’re doing it sounds scary,” claims Ewanick. “But, we are actually elevating the brand.”
So, I asked, how is Hyundai going to keep the pulse going? I wondered if they were going to play up the hip Korean angle. After all Korea is known for its funky music, fashions and outrageous food. No, apparently, not their direction.
“We are going to do a lot more about how Hyundai is important to America,” Ewanick said, noting that half of Hyundai’s cars are built in the U.S. with plans to build a second plant in Georgia.
Any breakthrough designs coming out of their Irvine, Calif., studio? Ewanick offered that in the next few years that we will see some designs that are “going to another place.”
“And your dealers, how are they doing?” I asked. Ewanick enthusiastically explains, with a dealership clientele that is pretty down, this has energized the sales force.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009