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Here Comes Hyundai

Like a car gaining fast in the rear view mirror, Hyundai is quickly picking up ground on the world's leading auto makers.

If you need further proof of it, check out what the South Korean company earned in the third quarter: $1.2 Billion. Not quite a record quarterly profit, but strong enough to send another message to the folks in Detroit, Japan and Europe. It's a pretty straight forward message: We're coming on strong whether you like it or not.

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AP

Americans clearly are embracing Hyundai and its sister company Kia.

U.S. sales are up 19% and 12% respectively in 2009. Impressive considering U.S. auto sales are up 10% this year.

It's the reason Hyundai/Kia has passed up Nissan/Infiniti to become #5 in the U.S..

Funny thing is, when I bring Hyundai up to auto execs in Detroit there's still a fair number who have their heads in the sand. They pooh pooh Hyundai growing sales with comments like, "They've got a couple nice cars like the Sonata, but it's a limited line-up." When I hear this it reminds me of the way people in Detroit acted when Toyota and Honda were picking off customers 10, 15 years ago.

Ahh, but there are also some in Detroit who know exactly how much of threat Hyundai has become. Ford CEO Alan Mulally is one of them.

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It's not surprising that at his employee town hall meeting on Tuesday Mulally mentioned Hyundai (as well as some other competitors) when a Ford worker asked him about threats to Ford's success. Mulally knows Hyundai is more than just the Sonata and Elantra.

Across town at GM, you can bet Joel Ewanick is clueing in the folks at General Motors about Hyundai. Ewanick did a masterful job with Hyundai's marketing. So masterful, GM hired him away to fix a GM marketing plan that has meandered aimlessly for years.

The reason Hyundai is coming on strong and raking in big profits is because it's showing the rare combination of offering high quality, well styled, moderately priced cars and SUVs people want to buy. Sounds simple, but few in the auto world can do that. Ford has achieved that with its current line-up, and Toyota used that formula in the 80's and 90's to fuel explosive growth. The interesting part of the Hyundai story is whether it can parlay this run. Yes, higher end cars are on the way and Hyundai thinks it can eventually be as successful with luxury cars as it is in the mass market.

I remember when people in Detroit used to chuckle Hyundai. These days, few are laughing about an auto company showing no signs of slowing down.


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