Hyundai Looking For Brand-Boosting Halo In Genesis

In the marketing version of "push-me-pull-you," Hyundai Motor America is using its forthcoming near-luxury Genesis sedan both to push the brand into the lucrative premium-car market and as a brand-boosting halo to help pull consumer perception along with it.

Says Wayne Killen, head of product development at the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based company: "It's not a question of need, but want. (Click here to listen to Killen.) There's the feeling in the company, whether you talk to R&D or sales, that we have cut our teeth in all the other segments. The perception of our cars is not up to reality. And you can try for years and years to change it, but sometimes you have to come out with more provocative products to get people to look at you in a different way. That's one thing Genesis does for us."

Killen says the company is finalizing an aggressive marketing plan for this summer, when the car--which starts at around $30,000--goes on sale. "We are trying to answer questions like how to reach out to consumers for whom this car isn't on the radar screen, how do we put the car in places they might frequent, whether professional or personal recreation."



He says marketing the new car will require an education program for dealers who are accustomed to selling mass-market vehicles like Accent, Tucson and Vera Cruz. "This is a different proposition. How do we look at how the retail experience has to change to accommodate this car?"

He says that means everything from sales and service training to parts and accessories, how a sales consultant would do a simple product demonstration and a separate retail space for Genesis. "We're thinking through all of that because the car requires a raising of standards across the board," he says.

He says Hyundai will likely boost its test-drive efforts and experiential marketing. "If we are doing our jobs right as a marketing company, that prospect may have already had an experience with the car before they walk into a dealership; I think that would be ideal. I would put competitive ride-and-drives out, with BMW's M35, Lexus GS 350, for folks to compare."

There are actually two versions of the Genesis on Hyundai's stand at the Detroit auto show: one whose front grill bears no Hyundai logo, and one whose grill does. Killen says the company is mulling which way to go--although he suggests the exigencies of the luxury segment favors the former, which is actually the grill Hyundai uses on Genesis vehicles in its home market, Korea.

There, the car is part of the Equus channel of vehicles. "Short answer is, we haven't made a decision yet. There's really two different approaches. One is more provocative. What we are thinking is that in this segment understatement is key. We think [a version such as the one without the Hyundai badge up front] piques people's interest."

Killen says Genesis is the start of a number of new vehicles in the upper realm of Hyundai's market reach. The next vehicle on the platform will be a Genesis coupe, due to market in early 2009. "Then we have a fairly aggressive product plan through 2013 that is not only extending the brand in this direction, but also filling holes in the lower price range," he says.

"It's really a two-fold benefit: one is that it's a halo, and two, it's tapping into a customer base we haven't had before," he says. And who knows--they might come back and say: 'I love this Genesis for myself, but I'm going to buy an Accent for my daughter because I'm looking at Hyundai in a different way.' "

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