Hyundai Motor launches Genesis brand to tap into luxury market

Hyundai taps into luxury

South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Co confirmed on Wednesday it will launch a new global luxury car brand called Genesis, targeting higher profit margins to help it reverse out of an earnings slide.

Hyundai, which rose to prominence on a reputation for reliable, affordable cars, said the Genesis brand's lineup will start with two sedans this year, growing to six by 2020.

All will be equipped with what it described as high-performance, environmentally friendly powertrains. The four new models under development are a luxury sedan, a sports coupe and two sport-utility vehicles.

The launch comes as Hyundai, the world's fifth-biggest automaker by sales along with its Kia Motors affiliate, seeks to stem a long-running drop in profit. The strength of the Korean won has eaten into revenue from cars sold outside a home base where Hyundai books three-quarters of all its sales.

As well as boosting profit margins, the new Genesis cars fit with Chairman Chung Mong-koo's long-held ambition to take the automaker more upmarket. As part of the luxury push, Luc Donckerwolke, a former chief designer at the iconic Bentley brand, will join the firm in first-half 2016 as a senior vice president to work on Genesis models, as well as Hyundai cars.

Success for the new Genesis brand remains uncertain, however. The high-end car market's growth and high profitability means stiff competition from global carmakers in markets from the United States to China.

Two people close to the company told Reuters that some of Hyundai's U.S.-based executives are concerned the company may be rushing its move to launch a standalone premium brand.

The company declined to comment.