The fishtailing, tire-burning yellow coupe that flashed on television during the first round of Superbowl commercials wasn't a Camaro, a Challenger, or anything remotely European. Most football fans were likely surprised at the Hyundai logo that appeared 20 seconds into the ad as the car slid maniacally in full opposite lock.
Unveiled in New York last year and seen as a concept in 2007, the Genesis coupe isn't new to car enthusiasts, nor are tease and suspense to automotive advertising. But during the initial hype of its Genesis sedan - the first Hyundai ever to cross $40,000 - the South Korean marque grasped the elements of surprise and bewilderment better than any automaker. The marketing folks can almost hear you saying, "That's a Hyundai?"
So far, it appears to be working. Total North American sales dropped just 14 percent last year, and the company reported a 14 percent year-over-year increase in January. The powertrain warranty is one of the best in the industry, and now Hyundai is letting buyers exit their leases without penalty.
But in spite of the J.D. Power awards, brand perception remains a big thorn in the company's side. The absence of a grill badge on the Genesis sedan, just like the prior XG300 and current Kia Amanti, makes this painfully obvious: that Hyundai lacks the self-confidence to charge premium prices.
Dave O'Brien, a Hyundai marketing manager who used to work for Lexus, is honest about the company's challenges.
"We have a negative brand image in this country," O'Brien said to the New England Motor Press Association last fall. He said Hyundai had planned to start a luxury division after the likes of Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura, but that it would have cost an estimated $10 billion.
Instead, Hyundai has focused on improving its dealers, which O'Brien described some as "absolutely pathetic" at customer service. But, he added, "when you started where we started from, the only way is up."
The Genesis coupe, wearing its "H" emblem with pride, is a step up. The racy silhouette is similar to its prime competitor, the Infiniti G37, but unlike the Genesis sedan, it's not a blatant mash of designs from other automakers. It's also unrelated to the front-wheel drive Tiburon, and Hyundai deserves a hand for making the Genesis a rear-wheel drive platform. Hats off, too, for the coupe's optional limited-slip differential and a 306 horsepower 3.8 liter V-6. Pricing will likely start at $25,000 for the 210 horsepower four-cylinder and north of $30,000 for the V-6 when both models arrive this spring.
Expensive, yes, but if Nissan and Volkswagen are any example, Hyundai will march upward in the market without alienating its core base of thrifty customers. Check back in five years for the results.
The author is solely responsible for the content.