Hyundai's gas-price guarantee, which locks its new car buyers into a year's worth of gas (12,000 miles) at $1.49 a gallon, is the latest in a series of well-timed marketing moves that have solidified the brand's name. (Update: Suzuki today announced it's giving away free gas to SX4 buyers, but only for the summer)
When Hyundai made its second attempt to crack the United States market in the 1990s, it offered a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty to convince buyers that its latest cars would be reliable.
That corporate endeavor continues to drive the company: Hyundai vehicles ranked No. 4 (up from No. 13) in the J.D. Power Annual Ranking of Initial Quality (problems reported in the first 90 days of ownership).
In January, seeking to reassure skittish buyers, Hyundai offered an "Assurance" program, offering to take back vehicles from buyers who lost their jobs.
The program worked. Though sales are off 8 percent, well below the industry average of 37 percent, Hyundai's market share has increased from 2.9 to 4.2 percent.
Now comes the gas price guarantee. When gas was more than $4. a gallon last year, Chrysler offered a $2.99 guarantee, but the program fizzled when gas prices fell. It's doubtful that we'll see $1.49 gas again, giving this latest Hyundai marketing plan the look of another winner.
A question for another day is whether the company's plan to offer a vehicle for all buyers will be successful, instead of staying with its established strength of small and mid-sized vehicles. Hyundai plans to bring a top-of-the-line Equus coming to market in 2010, upstaging the acclaimed Genesis sedan and coupe.
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