Last week in Seoul, Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, showed off its latest offering, the 2019 G70 compact luxury sport sedan, to hundreds of media from all over the world. I went to South Korea quite skeptical about the brand, unsure of its role in the luxury marketplace and unconvinced by its lukewarm existing products, the midsize G80 and large flagship G90 sedans.
On KBB.com, shopper familiarity with the Genesis brand is flat for all of 2017, with just under 40% of people recognizing it. But, traffic to Genesis pages is up lately thanks to recent marketing campaigns. Most people researching Genesis also shop for a non-luxury brand, reflecting the fact that Genesis struggles with consumer perceptions of prestige and sophistication. Luxury vehicle owners don’t want to have to justify their purchase; they just want to show up to the country club and impress people with what they bought.
Part of this problem is an acknowledged confusion around the brand itself. Genesis started as a model within the Hyundai lineup. Nearly two years ago, Hyundai decided to officially launch a luxury brand and call it Genesis, while at the same time continuing to sell the Hyundai Genesis sedan even within the same showroom. Once the brand was up and running, the Hyundai Genesis was renamed the G80 with the hope that it would compete directly with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
At the same time, Genesis added the G90, originally destined to be the redesigned Hyundai Equus. An even larger sedan, the G90 is meant to compete with the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. While nice enough, neither the G80 nor the G90 stirs the senses the way luxury products must in order to possess credibility. Indeed, during a recent media drive for the G80, I came home to discover I hadn’t taken a single personal picture of the vehicle for social media.
At that same driving event, I sat down with the head of Genesis, Manfred Fitzgerald, an American in passport only who exudes elegance with exotic good looks and an intriguing combination of languages (English, German, Italian). I was curious about the brand’s identity, its messaging going forward, and what would compel someone to buy a Genesis over a more established brand.
Mr. Fitzgerald’s version of Genesis is: “Audacious: no challenge is too big. Progressive: what’s new? What’s determining the future? And distinctly Korean: Humble people, balance and harmony.” I certainly saw a level of determination, progressive thinking, and distinctly Korean traits while in the country for the G70 reveal.
What does “distinctly Korean” mean? While touring around, I was confused about the appearance of many couples in traditional Korean dress. It turns out that this is a Men, women, and children rent – traditional attire – and stroll through city streets, particularly on the weekend. It’s very popular on dates, but I saw groups of men, groups of women, school kids, and couples all in . It’s clear that Koreans have a deep pride in their heritage and enjoy showing it off for themselves and others.
At the same time, there is an emphasis on technology with the latest LG and Samsung TVs just as proudly on display, which reflects the progressive and audacious part of Mr. Fitzgerald’s vision. Koreans learn from other cultures, indiscriminately hiring the top people from any country for the benefit of their own, as we’ve seen from the Genesis team’s varied by heavily German makeup.
Koreans also take risks. They’re willing to push the envelope to find that game changer. We see this mentality in the enormous success of the Samsung smartphones, often – arguably – forcing competitors such as Apple to play catch up.
Overall, during my few days in Korea, I found a country that embraces its heritage while pushing itself forward. The work ethic of the Korean people is second to none, with long days expected and a “pali-pali” pace – hurry up! “I need it done now, I need it done well, and I need it done fast,” a Korean friend tells me.
While I was initially skeptical of Genesis, I’m feeling more confident about the brand’s prospects today, thanks in part to my time in Korea, but more due to my time behind the wheel of the new Genesis G70. It’s clear they are on the right track with this new sport sedan, and the upcoming GV80 SUV – due in 2019 – will be a most welcome addition to the Genesis portfolio.
Even while the brand is expanding in the right direction, the showroom strategy is undergoing a renovation. Currently, the Genesis G80 and G90 are sold from within existing Hyundai dealerships, which is a bit like housing a Rolex showroom inside a Target.
Hyundai is a trendy, fun brand like Target, but most certainly is not high-end. Someone shopping for a Rolex doesn’t want to do so in a harshly lit mass market environment, just as someone shopping for a luxury vehicle doesn’t want to do so within the same showroom where leased Elantras are handed over to pizza delivery guys. As this is written, the Genesis executive team is culling through its dealerships, working on a strategy to provide a more distinctive ownership experience for the brand. This can’t come soon enough.
In the meantime, Genesis ownership benefits include free scheduled maintenance and complementary vehicle pickup and delivery for service appointments, as well as a host of safety features standard. Pricing is highly competitive as well. A recent KBB study showed a similarly equipped 5 Series is over $10,000 more than the G80.
Moving forward, the Genesis team needs to be laser focused on establishing itself as a distinctly Korean luxury brand, with precision marketing offering a sales and service experience well above its sister brands. The brand has benchmarked the Germans from an engineering/performance standpoint, which is highly appropriate. But this is less about trying to redirect people from BMW or Audi, and more about pulling people up from a well-equipped Honda or a used luxury vehicle and into a new Genesis.
Genesis is on the right track with the G70. Now, they just need to continue telling the story of Korean audacity. But, , people. Get it done quickly. Get it done well.