HYUNDAI is planning a premium rival to Lexus and Infiniti when it brings Genesis to the UK in 2013.
The cars – a sporty coupe, executive saloon and luxury limousine – would be sold through a specialist network of dealers set up specifically to deal with the new models.
Hyundai Motor UK Ltd managing director Tony Whitehorn said Genesis could become known as a standalone brand in an attempt to give the cars ‘more credibility’ in the UK, but as yet there are no confirmed plans.
‘Lexus did a great job in the states, but it never really took off in Europe,’ said Whitehorn. ‘But the premium route is certainly interesting and it’s one that could work for us with Genesis in the UK.’
There are currently trials taking place in Europe to see if buyers will accept Genesis as a different brand from Hyundai. The tests couldn’t take place here as there were no right-hand drive cars available – these are unlikely to arrive until late 2012 and after that the Genesis brand could be rolled out in the UK, possibly in early 2013.
The Hyundai chief is under no illusions as to how big a task it would be to hive off a premium arm from a manufacturer whose reputation has been built on selling budget cars.
‘We would have to be very careful as there isn’t actually a successful model in the UK where a mainstream manufacturer has made a success of premium,’ said Mr Whitehorn. ‘It would be very brave of us, but despite being a difficult route to market, I think it would be the best one for Genesis.’
Lexus – Toyota’s luxury arm – has been successful in America, where it has been established since 1989, but since its launch in the UK it has struggled compared to premium rivals.
The maker’s sales for the year up to September were down 31 per cent on 2009, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Rival Infiniti, the recently-launched premium arm of Nissan, currently operates from three UK dealerships in Reading, Birmingham and London.
SMMT data shows it sold just 26 cars in September, compared to Lexus’ 1,220. Market leader Ford sold 46,389 in the same month.
The Genesis models are a marked change from Hyundai’s most popular, the £7,135 i10 city car. The Coupe – pictured above – is a sports car rival to the Nissan 370Z while the Saloon, below, –North American Car of the Year in 2009 – aims to take on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The luxury limousine Equus will go up against the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class and, like its sister models, will tempt buyers with prices that are seven to 10 per cent cheaper than rivals.
Mr Whitehorn said at least 20 per cent of his current 152 UK dealers would need to be set up as Genesis outlets, all with dedicated salesman, for the brand to be successful.
‘That’s the only way it could work – it would differentiate Genesis from Hyundai,’ he said.
The brand’s existing dealers like the premium idea too. Michael Nobes, dealer principal of Richmond Hyundai, based in Hampshire, is the manufacturer’s biggest selling dealership in Europe.
He said: ‘I think it would be fantastic. Hyundai is highly regarded now and my customers would buy into premium models I’m sure.’
By JAMES BAGGOTT