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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 11:14 GMT
Hyundai aims for US luxury market
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Detroit auto show

 Hyundai Genesis
Journalists were swarming over the Hyundai Genesis

After years of backing Goliath, auto industry executive Dave Zuchowski threw caution to the wind and changed sides - and it appears to have paid off.

After twenty-eight years with Ford Motor, the last four of them spent with the US automotive giant's partially owned Japanese ally Mazda, Mr Zuchowski was pulled in by their Korean rival less than a year ago.

Mr Zuchowski says he joined underdog Hyundai Motor as sales director for family reasons, yet friends and former colleagues responded by congratulating him on a shrewd career move.

We're looking at a different buyer
Dave Zuchowski, Sales Director, Hyundai USA

Changing places

In recent years, Hyundai has climbed from a low base to become the world's sixth-largest auto maker.

"In the US, we went from 100,000 cars sold to 400,000 in four years, faster than any other company has ever done," says Mr Zuchowski.

 Hyundai Genesis
The Genesis' interior is as luxurious as in cars made by Japanese and German rivals

Meanwhile Ford has been overtaken by Toyota for the number two spot in the US car market, although it remains strong in some segments like pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

To Mr Zuchowski, it all seems to be a great adventure. "It's a new world for us," Mr Zuchowski says. "We're looking at a different buyer."

Foreign firms

Hyundai's Genesis will be shown to potential customers for the first time on Saturday when the public will filter into Detroit's Cobo Center.

Jim Press in front of the new Ram truck
US rivals are still betting on big SUVs and trucks

When seen with European eyes, the vast hall appears disproportionately filled with large pickup trucks and SUVs.

So-called "trucks" still account for more than half the vehicles sold in the US, so obviously it is not just the big Detroit-based automotive groups - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - that are in on the act.

Japan's Toyota and Nissan are also showing huge pick-ups, and there is even the odd "proper" American truck made exclusively for this market by European manufacturers.

Hyundai, with its own SUV, is no exception in this respect, although its SUV is not among the biggest.

Luxury fight

The Genesis is different.

Journalists have been flocking to the car at the show's preview days, and there is plenty of buzz and compliments.

"Twenty years ago, nobody would've given a dime for a Hyundai," says Angus MacKenzie, the editor-in-chief of Motortrend.

"It's as good as a Lexus or an Infiniti," he adds, referring to luxury models on offer from subsidiaries of mass-market specialists like Toyota and Nissan.

Others have compared it with German high-end models from BMW and Mercedes - while no one have mentioned any US rivals.

"We're an excellent alternative," grins Mr Zuchowski. "And the Genesis is going to be another building block for the Hyundai brand."

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