Q&A With Hyundai's Interim CMO, Chris Perry

Hyundai SonataChris Perry was probably a busy man before last week, but he may need to redefine the term. The interim CMO for Hyundai Motor America (HMA) takes the helm rather suddenly as the company is in the midst of rolling out its biggest program to date in support of the 2011 Sonata sedan.

And just in time for the New York International Auto Show, the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based automaker lost its CMO, Joel Ewanick, who pulled up stakes to head to the wilds of Tennessee to oversee marketing for Nissan's North American operations. Perry is the one person that HMA is considering for the job from inside the company, according to a spokesperson.

Also on tap is a marketing program around Hyundai's corporate global sponsorship of FIFA (the International Federation of Football Associations.)

Then in September, the company launches a turbo version of Sonata plus the car it unveils at this week's show: the Sonata Hybrid, its first such vehicle. Hyundai will simulcast the Javits Center press conference on the LED screen in Times Square while "air cleaners" dressed in Hyundai-branded attire hit 42nd Street and Broadway, directing people's attention to the screen.



At least the changes come at an auspicious time in Hyundai's history in the U.S. The company's U.S. sales rose 8% over last year, it has gotten salubrious third-party market data on loyalty, residuals and consideration from J.D. Power and Harris Interactive, and Hyundai brand loyalty passed that of Honda and replaced Toyota in the No. 1 spot, per Kelley Blue Book.

In New York for the show, Perry stopped by MediaPost's offices to talk about new cars, the year ahead, and the future for HMA.

Q: How is the Sonata Hybrid different from cars like Prius?

A: Hybrids have traditionally either been visually unique or versions of non-hybrid cars. We have taken a different approach. This is a Sonata chassis, but it looks completely different. The front is different, the side treatment is different, and it's functionally different. But it is also the first hybrid with lithium polymer batteries. So it's really the next generation of hybrid.

Q: Who is the target buyer for the vehicle?

A: Our target is people with the mindset -- the common attitude -- that environment and community are important. For our audience, that is a real issue. But also, the most fuel-efficient vehicles are also the vehicles with the lowest emissions.

Q: Why is Hyundai only offering the new Sonata as a 4-cylinder vehicle?

A: If you look at the segment, the majority of cars sold are 4-cylinder vehicles. It's interesting that even for Altima, only 10% of the mix is V6. But our 4-cylinder technology provides better horsepower and torque where it matters -- between 40 and 60 mpg. If a customer comes in saying they have to have a V6, there's Azera -- so we are not going to lose the V6 customer.

Q: You have launched Sonata in a big way on the Super Bowl and Oscars. Is that the biggest part of the campaign?

A: No -- our big push actually starts in May, so we are just getting into it. And we will be doing a lot with our sponsorship of FIFA, of which Hyundai is global sponsor.

Q: How big a deal, though, is soccer to American consumers?

A: Soccer fans are passionate. If you are a soccer fan you are diehard, and this is the biggest event of the summer -- and since it's on ESPN, they will push it and sport fans are going to be gravitating toward things like ESPN Sports Center to watch it. We will advertise during games, and also leading up to the games and throughout the tournament. We will sponsor Play of the Day, and do specific creative around soccer themes. We thought it was a great way to leverage global sponsorship.

Q: What are you doing on social media, which is a big part of the Sonata campaign?

A: There will be a much bigger push around the Sonata launch this summer in those platforms -- a significant investment -- because for our brand, it's an opportunity to introduce ourselves in an open and honest and non-sales-pitch way. People need to feel more comfortable with the brand.

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