HyundaiNew Cars > Hyundai
If a biography of Hyundai were written, it might be called "How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success." Few companies have started up so haltingly, yet overcome that deficit and eventually risen toward the top. Despite a weak beginning due to questionable quality, by the second decade of the 21st century, Hyundai had become one of the most-improved makes on the U.S. market.
Hyundai was the first South Korean automaker to reach the U.S. market, in 1986. Based on the platform used by the Japanese-made Mitsubishi Mirage, the subcompact front-drive Excel came in hatchback and sedan form, promising high mileage and a low price (initially $4,995). Excel turned out to be the best-selling first-year imported model ever marketed in the U.S. up to that time. But that success didn't last long, as serious quality problems began to surface. Excels hung on until 1994, but they'd become viewed more often as the butt of jokes.
Hyundai's heritage dates from 1968, when the company was founded in Korea to assemble British Fords. A prototype Hyundai Pony appeared at the Turin (Italy) auto show in 1974, going into production a year later. That Pony evolved into a Pony Excel, which became the Excel when exports began.
Design wasn't an issue when those Excels were built for the U.S. Styling was the work of renowned Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, engineered by Ital Design.
Giugiaro also handled the design work for the larger Sonata sedan, which joined for the 1989 model year. Built in Canada, the Sonata began to attract Camry/Accord shoppers who preferred to pay less. Then, a sporty little Scoupe with a Lotus-tuned suspension debuted in the U.S. for the 1991 model year, lasting for five seasons and adding a Turbo along the way.
When the subcompact Accent arrived for 1995 to take the place of the ill-fated Excel, it was evident that quality was improved. Side-impact airbags were standard. Assembly quality got better with each succeeding generation of the Accent-last redesigned for 2012.
Hyundai introduced the compact Elantra, which fit right between the Excel/Accent and the Sonata in size, for the 1992 model year. Like the Accent, Sonatas and Elantras went through a succession of generations, each one drawing greater interest. Hyundai claimed to be the only automaker providing scheduled maintenance at no additional cost.
Two years after the Scoupe departed, Hyundai unveiled a Tiburon sport coupe, based on the HCD-II concept, which again proved superior to its predecessor. A second-generation Tiburon was offered during 2003-08. Adding a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty in 1998 soon stimulated Hyundai sales further yet.
Two brand-new models debuted for 2001: an XG300 sedan, considered a step up from Sonata; and Hyundai's first SUV, the compact Santa Fe. A companion Tucson crossover SUV, smaller in size, arrived for 2005 with a choice of four-cylinder or V-6 power, versus V6-only for the Santa Fe. A more luxurious Azera sedan replaced the XG for 2006.
Hyundai stepped up another notch in premium sedans with the rear-drive Genesis, launched for 2009. Soon, a sporty Genesis coupe version went on sale, later adding a hot 3.8 R-Spec edition.
Meanwhile, in 2007, Hyundai introduced an Entourage minivan and a midsize Veracruz crossover SUV. Sharing its design with Kia's Sedona, the minivan soon disappeared, but the Veracruz remains in Hyundai's lineup.
Sonatas switched to four-cylinder engines (including a hybrid) as part of the 2011 redesign, and Hyundai began to promote 40-mpg highway fuel economy for several of its models. Topping the line was a new Equus, ready to compete against the best luxury sedans worldwide. For the 2012 model year, Hyundai had something completely different on tap: the sporty three-door Veloster, with a second door only on the passenger side.
Hyundai's recent move toward fast-rising popularity has been helped by the company's generous warranty, which helps erase any lingering quality concerns. Instead of being sold strictly on price, Hyundais have become "aspirational" vehicles-models that people would like to own, not settle for because they're cheaper.