Chung Mong-koo, center, chairman of Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, tours Hyundai Motor's Alabama plant, Wednesday. / Courtesy of Hyundai Motor
By Park Jin-hai
Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo vowed to significantly boost customer satisfaction as the nation's biggest automaker is being pressured to keep its margin steady amid the rise of its chief Japanese competitors.
Hyundai Kia has recently been enjoying a steep increase in its market share in the United States, which the company has identified as its most crucial market, thanks to an improvement in the quality of its vehicles.
But the chairman believes the conglomerate needs "what's next" for further external corporate growth, and "customer satisfaction" could be the top buzzwords for it.
"Alabama is the place that first manufactured the NF Sonata within U.S. The growth that we have made in the U.S. market over the past 10 years couldn't have been accomplished without the passion and effort that we devoted to producing the first Sonata here," he said at Hyundai Motor's Alabama plant, Wednesday.
Chung is currently in the United States to inspect key plants in Georgia and Alabama, and to update business strategies for the North American market. Hyundai's global share remained at 9 percent, mostly powered by healthy sales of its flagship vehicles in China. But for North America, Hyundai is seeing stalled growth as Japanese carmakers such as Toyota, including Lexus, are continuing to show improvement due to the weakening yen against the greenback.
Hyundai-Kia Motors' U.S. plants have produced 4 million vehicles as of July.
"The past 10 years was the preparation to make Hyundai-Kia a top global auto brand. The next 10 years will be a time that we can be reborn as a top brand that consumers prefer," the chairman said.
Hyundai-Kia was recently the subject of questions about the quality of its premium vehicles, and Hyundai officials said Chung's visit to the United States was intended to address those concerns, according to officials.
The Alabama plant is where most of the YF Sonatas that were involved with Hyundai Motor's 883,000 vehicle recall were manufactured.
What is notable is that during the same period, the sale of domestically manufactured Hyundai cars increased more than 50 percent, to 320,000 in 2013 from 210,000 in 2007.
Chung pointed out that the brisk sales of U.S.-manufactured Hyundai-Kia cars are pushing up sales of domestically manufactured cars.
The Alabama plant and its "Made in USA" tag increased Hyundai's brand recognition and that has led to sales increases not only for Hyundai cars but also exports of its local partners manufacturing parts.
Its improved brand image affected its lineup. The company that mainly sold compact cars, diversified its portfolio to include brand models. Since the premium Genesis and Equus sedans made their debut in the U.S. in 2009, their sales now make up 6 to 7 percent of all Hyundai Motor sales.
The new Genesis was also honored by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety with its "Top Safety Pick+" rating in May.
"The Sorento SUV is the representative model for the Georgia plant, especially for those first five years after it was established. By making its follow-up models successfully land in the U.S. market, it should provide a vision for another five years," Chung said.
Hyundai Motor's Alabama plant was built in 2005 and Kia Motors Georgia plant in 2009. The automaker produced 1 million cars from its U.S. plants in 2009; its number quadrupled to 4 million in five years.