To succeed, Hyundai needs the unpopular sedan
By HANNAH ELLIOTT
There’s an adage in the car business that says automotive success depends on a task that’s simple to say, but difficult to do: Make good products. If you build them well, it promises, the buyers will come.
The 2019 Genesis G70 has earned critical acclaim from the likes of Car and Driver and CNET, and high ratings from JDPower and Consumer Reports. It was even nominated as the 2019 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
But the company itself seems wrecked. Over the first six months of this year, Genesis sales in the US fell 36.3% compared to the same period in 2017.
In July, the brand sold less than 800 vehicles nationwide, a 50% decline year-on-year and the first time it dipped under 1,000 units per month. Genesis provides only 3% of parent company Hyundai Motor Co’s sales; Toyota Motor Corp gets 14% from its own premium brand, Lexus.
The discrepancy could be attributed to a dealer issue. Hyundai has made some knee-jerk moves here, setting up a limited number of separate Genesis dealerships after initially using existing Hyundai dealers, before flip-flopping to allow franchises for all Hyundai dealers.
Perhaps it’s the lack of brand recognition, as it fights among other premium carmakers who have been in the market for decades.
But the guys at Bloomberg Intelligence tell me it’s a “flagrant miscalculation” of the market more than anything.
Genesis has three sedans in its line-up at a time when the rest of the luxury market is banking on SUVs. This makes Genesis a 100% car brand in a market that is 70% truck. The total US automotive market is 70% skewed toward truck sales and will likely go higher.
“An automaker can build the greatest sedans in the world, and they will still wish they had invested the time and money in a truck,” says Bloomberg Intelligence senior autos analyst Kevin Tynan.
The cars, anyway, are indeed good. I would quibble with that Motor Trend nomination, but that’s not my monkey, not my circus. I drove a G90 in 2017 and found that “the level of luxury really did set it apart from its economy-minded siblings” and that “Genesis has come strongly out of the gate with this flagship sedan”.
The Essentia Concept looks cool, though it’s years away from being production-ready. And the fuel cell SUV can’t come soon enough. Genesis says it will produce two crossover utility vehicles and at least one sports coupe by 2021.
This month, I test-drove the 2019 G70 sedan (US$50,995 or RM213,669 as tested) in New York City. It’s an important car for Genesis because it’s the third of six new models Genesis will introduce by 2021, and it’s the final sedan of the line-up. It’s the smaller, entry-level-style car from the premium brand.
Genesis deserves high marks for offering some great ways to make it exactly what you want. It comes with two engine variants: A 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged petroleum V6 or a 2.0-litre turbocharged petroleum inline four-cylinder. With either engine, G70 is available with standard rear-wheel drive (RWD) or optional all-wheel drive (AWD).
There is even an optional six-speed manual version, something Genesis press materials describe as a “rare treat”. I wish I had been able to taste that treat. My 3.3-litre Turbo V6 version had eight-speed automatic paddle shifting and AWD.
The car has 365hp and 376lb-ft of torque — the most power of any entry-level premium sedan in the segment — and a zero-to-60mph time of 4.5 seconds on the RWD version. That’s if you’re using launch control, which sounds like something that should be reserved for Lamborghinis and McLarens, not a Hyundai. I guess you can’t fault Hyundai for aspiring to greatness.
It drives fine. It’s capable. The overall feeling is smooth, as if it had no rough edges. Punch the petrol or step on the brakes, and it feels well-balanced. It doesn’t roll as you take a tight corner. Better yet, it gets as much as 30 miles (48.2km) per gallon on the highway.
I just didn’t get a strong sense of personality here. Or even especially tight, athletic handling. For that, you should look elsewhere, such as the BMW 3-Series. There’s a reason one of every four BMWs sold is a 3-Series.
Inside the cabin is lots of head- and legroom, and the back and rear side windows have ample visibility. It comes standard with these cool extras: Dual automatic climate control, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming mirrors, two front USB ports, and an eight-inch display audio screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Heated rear seats, Nappa leather, heads-up display and a Qi wireless charging pad. All are standard on the G70 Prestige 2.0T version like the one I drove. There’s even a rearview camera to help with parking. A-plus on those, guys.
I also like how this car looks on the outside, as did most of the garage attendants where I parked. A wide, diamond-lattice grille, low body and slim headlights separate it from similar vehicles from BMW (3-Series), Acura (ILX), Lexus (IS) and Audi (A4).
Small details such as sides that are cut out and a hood that’s raised a little in the centre give it a dynamic look when it’s in motion. (One garage attendant asked if the car was a Bentley. I’m not sure if this says more about the car or about him.)
Sedans in this category are shaped first and foremost by kowtowing to safety standards and efficiency, not actually, you know, looking cool, so Genesis top designer Luc Donckerwolke deserves praise here. (He was head of design at Lamborghini, where he made the Lamborghini Diablo, the 2002 Lamborghini Murciélago, and 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo.)
If you get this car, an available wide sunroof, 19-inch sport alloy wheels and an amplified exhaust sound will all help announce your presence even more overtly as you drive it home.
And yet, a car can look great on paper but lack the magic of timing and energy. It will be years before Genesis gains the glow of a truly respected, established player in the luxury market. (There’s an SUV or two or three coming by 2020.)
But for the few non-SUV buyers left out there, this also gives them some leverage: If you know Hyundai dealers are struggling to sell anything, that’s negotiating power.
And if you can talk yourself into an amenable deal on this sedan, which starts at US$45,750, you’ll still have an edge against the ubiquitous other sedans your neighbours drive. It’s worth a look. — Bloomberg