Genesis Suji is the firm’s flagship showroom – a G90 is seen here under the spotlight. Pic by Dominic FraserGenesis Suji is the firm’s flagship showroom – a G90 is seen here under the spotlight. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Features

Can Genesis replicate its South Korean success story here in Europe?

Ted Welford headed to Seoul to find out more about the Korean Wave 

Time 7:35 am, April 23, 2023

The past couple of decades have seen South Korea enjoy its moment – both culturally and economically.

You’ll have likely heard the irritatingly catchy Gangnam Style song from 2012, sampled the deliciousness of Korean Fried Chicken (no, not KFC) and watched the Netflix phenomenon that is Squid Game while bored in lockdown.

And it’s this interest in the eastern Asian country that led to the term ‘Korean Wave’ being coined. A slightly unfortunate name after Covid, we’ll admit.


But it’s this Korean Wave that premium carmaker Genesis, which launched in the UK in May 2021, hopes will generate interest in its products and brand in Europe.

It’s an exceptionally tough market at this upper end of the spectrum, where buyers will do anything to drive a new car with a Mercedes, BMW and Audi badge on the centre of their steering wheel but – generally speaking – won’t consider other premium brands.

That’s been shown in its sales figures. It registered 127 cars in 2021, growing to a suspiciously round figure of 1,000 in 2022. So far in the UK, it’s only sold cars via its ‘Studios’ (sites in shopping centres) and purely online.


There are currently two Studios in the UK, both of them in London – one in the Westfield shopping centre; the other in the revitalised Battersea Power Station.

It will open a third site much further north this summer in Edinburgh – likely coinciding with the Scottish Open taking place in July, of which Genesis is the main sponsor.

The Genesis Suji building is inspired by Korean architecture. Pic by Dominic Fraser

The Genesis Suji building – the manufacturer’s largest showroom worldwide – is inspired by Korean architecture

The firm also recently confirmed it would establish its own dealer network in the UK as part of its next ‘phase’.

Genesis hopes to have operation deals by the start of 2024 and is currently seeking partners with which to work.

To get an idea of what Genesis’s future might look like in a market where the firm has been around since 2015 and is well developed, we headed to its home city of Seoul to ‘experience’ this country and explore the brand for ourselves.

Straight out of Seoul’s Incheon airport, it’s clear that Genesis cars are everywhere. If you see one of the firm’s models in the UK, it’s surprising; here, you can’t move for them.

It’s almost as if Genesis is sponsoring the airport, but it’s the same scene everywhere.

South Korea clearly likes large cars, as predominantly it’s the BMW 5 Series-sized Genesis G80 and Audi Q7-rivalling GV80 that are around, as well as an impressive number of G90s – the firm’s flagship luxury saloon, and one not sold in Europe.

It’s the G90 that is our first initial taste of Genesis and South Korea too – chauffeur-driven, of course – as we soak up the view of Seoul’s skyline from our massaging, heated, cooled (you name it) seats, with the strongest tinted windows you’ve ever seen.


We’re transported around in a fleet of these blacked-out G90s for our full week in Seoul, in the most aggressively driven convoy of cars you’ve ever seen.

Ted Welford was in a convoy of G90s driven around Seoul when he went there for his feature about Genesis. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Ted Welford was in a convoy of G90s driven around Seoul when he went there for his feature about Genesis

So the next day it’s as if the Mafia has descended on Genesis Suji – the firm’s largest showroom worldwide.

With almost 5,000 sq m of space spread out across four floors, this is a mightily impressive place.

Clad in rust-coloured weathered steel, which changes colour naturally, it most certainly stands out in what is otherwise quite an unremarkable part of southern Seoul.

Upon entering, this place is huge and about as far removed from a traditional dealership as you can get.

There’s only one car on the entire ground floor – a G90 in this case. Seen under a spotlight (pictured at top), it’s as if K-pop band BTS is taking to the stage. It’s essentially an atrium with all floors overlooking this one car.

Around 110,000 people visit Genesis Suji a year, averaging around 330 people a day when it’s open.

Of those who walk through the doors, only 120 buy a vehicle directly from the site each year, so it’s clear that this is very much an ‘experience’ site rather than one where deals are done.

The remaining three floors are assigned to a set type of vehicle. The second is for saloons while the third is for SUVs and the fourth is dedicated to the firm’s largest SUV, the GV80.

Genesis – Graeme Russell. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Graeme Russell, the chief brand officer of Genesis Korea, says the country is definitely having a cultural moment

Overlooking them all is a ‘car tower’ that can house up to 32 models and is there to display a host of models and configurations.

Speaking of configurations, we’re huge fans of the way Genesis displays car colours.

Rather than a small square displaying the different shades, there are full-sized doors with contrasting interior combinations to give a better idea of what a vehicle will look like.

It’s perhaps slight overkill, though, given that nearly every car in Seoul is black, grey or white…

Genesis says it wants us to be its ‘son-nim’, meaning ‘honoured guest’ – a big part of what Genesis is about – and because of this, we get to see how a vehicle is handed over to a customer should they elect to pick it up from this site.

We’re ushered into a room where there’s a G90 behind a glass door.

There then entails a slightly odd ‘handover’, where a series of robots with cameras swivel about the car, effectively doing a ‘quality control’.

Cynically, we ask if this also happens at the factory. It does, we’re told. This is all a free service, too.

Genesis shows its car colours in a unique way. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Genesis shows its car colours in a unique way

Graeme Russell, the chief brand officer of Genesis and a Brit who’s previously worked for almost a decade in various positions at Bentley, tells us it’s this hospitality that helps to set Genesis apart from other brands.

‘Hospitality, we believe, is an opportunity to differentiate – to show that we can provide a level of customer service and experience that goes beyond the other offerings in the market,’ he says.

‘The approach in Europe is about time and valuing customers’ time, and finding ways to maximise it, such as minimising interaction when it comes to warranty, servicing and roadside assistance as part of the five-year Genesis Care programme.’

We get a first-hand taste of this hospitality at this showroom, but there are other examples, too. One is the Genesis Lounge, located at the five-star Shilla hotel in central Seoul. It’s a bar, as well as a meeting area and an event space that can be hired out.

The catch? It’s only available to owners of the firm’s G90 Long Wheelbase who then take out an additional membership.

A third of owners have subscribed so far, equating to 300 people who are part of this slightly unusual members-only lounge located on the sixth floor of this hotel.

But back to South Korea itself, which is one of the busiest, wealthiest and culturally rich places we’ve ever visited, and something Genesis hopes it can leapfrog off.

Russell says: ‘At a cultural level, there is huge interest in Korea. Korea is definitely having a cultural moment.

Genesis Suji isn’t like any other car dealership that we’ve ever visited. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Genesis Suji isn’t like any other car dealership that we’ve ever visited

‘We believe that around the world, and we see it and we feel it, that there’s a curiosity and an interest in Korea and we believe that we’re part of it.

‘Not just to benefit from it but to keep the momentum. It’s a responsibility that we feel about Genesis.’

The growth in Genesis’s home market has been key to helping the brand expand, with the firm being the market leader in the premium segment in South Korea – and by a significant margin.

‘Western’ cars are relatively rare on the roads.

In fact, while Genesis might be small in the UK, later in 2023 it will have produced its millionth car, and it’s now making around 200,000 vehicles a year – with most of them ending up in South Korea and the USA, which is now a significant market for the firm.

It is expanding its footprint in other parts of the world, too, such as the Middle East and Canada.

Russell says: ‘The decision to launch Genesis here in Korea and establish it in its home market has been a key element of the brand.

‘The authenticity, relevance, market conditions and awareness of the parent company Hyundai gave us a very strong platform to help us launch into international markets.’

Genesis – Marc Choi. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Marc Choi, vice-president and product officer of Genesis, acknowledges that trying to crack the European market won’t be easy

While Genesis says it will be in Europe for the long term, the only countries within the continent that it currently sells in are the UK, Germany and Switzerland, and while the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries are thought to be in the pipeline, there has been no confirmation as yet.

But the firm acknowledges the struggles of establishing a new brand in Europe, describing the region’s car market as ‘very peculiar’.

Marc Choi, vice-president and product officer of Genesis, said: ‘Obviously, the domestic market is an easy target, relatively speaking.

‘We know the Korean market very well, and we almost take it for granted. Koreans tend to receive luxury products very well, and we can count on a certain level of demand.

‘Based on our success and the level of expectation and quality, it can easily transfer overseas, but the difficulty of the European market is that such reliance is not there, so we need to create the same level of response from the region.

‘Europe is very peculiar, and not in a good way, and the expectation of a premium brand is very high. It’s not an easy task.’

But it’s clear that Genesis likes a challenge and that Europe is a very specific challenge.

We’ve seen the introduction of the G70 Shooting Brake (okay, it’s an estate, but a very good-looking one) that was designed purely for the region, and the brand is also exploring introducing smaller models that will help widen its audience.

SangYup Lee, Hyundai and Genesis’s head of design who coincidentally has just scooped the World Car Person of the Year title, reflects on this, too.

Lee says: ‘The European market is the home of luxury. We want to get respect in Europe – that is one of the most audacious visions of our future. No other Asian car company has done that in Europe.’

Genesis – SangYup Lee. Pic by Dominic Fraser

Hyundai and Genesis’s head of design SangYup Lee was recently named World Car Person of the Year

Getting to see Genesis and its success in South Korea is eye-opening.

It’s all too easy in the UK when looking at the firm’s small sales figures to question its future viability.

But seeing what it has achieved in less than eight years in Korea is immense, helped not least by the financial backing of the Hyundai empire.

Chatting to South Koreans, a Genesis is seen as that ‘you’ve made it’ car here, especially for those in their 20s and 30s, in a similar way you might judge someone’s success if they’re driving around in the latest Audi or BMW.

While, of course, Genesis will never sell as many cars in Europe as will the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, this brand’s determination to conquer the European car market is bold and confident.

Only time will tell if the Korean Wave manages to translate into sales.

Pictures: Dominic Fraser

This feature appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 182 – along with news, views, reviews, interviews and much more! Read and download it for FREE here

 

Ted Welford's avatar

Ted Welford is a motoring journalist for Car Dealer's parent company Blackball Media. He writes for a variety of motoring publications and tests the latest cars on a regular basis. He likes cleaning them too.



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