Interview: Tony Whitehorn

Time 12:08 am, November 16, 2011

hyundai-tony-whitehornThe managing director of Hyundai UK tells JAMES BATCHELOR that the company’s sleek new i40 is a car designed in Europe for Europe

Why is the i40 so important for Hyundai?

Simple – it embodies everything Hyundai is trying to do. We need to make our cars look fantastic and sleek, and the i40 saloon with its coupe-like lines and the dynamic shape of the tourer are representative of that.

To be honest, up until about four years ago, we have not looked as good. The old Sonata was not exactly a good-looking car.

In a full year, how many i40s do you expect to sell?

To start off with, our expectations are around the 3,000 mark. It’s not crazy numbers but that’s what we think is about right. It’s a very important car for us as it gets us into the fleet market, and the initial ratio of sales we think will be 60:40 in favour of fleets. Like Mazda, we think it will grow to 70 in time.

screen-shot-2011-11-14-at-151747Is the i40 a toe in the water in the D-segment market, or is it a complete offering?

The Koreans are not the type of people to build something to test the market – so the i40 is a proper competitor.

We have invested an awful lot of money in advertising the i40 – actually, our marketing spend on the i40 is more than any other Hyundai ever – and that’s because we have said that we need a car designed in Europe for Europe.

The Sonata was a different car, and if you compare the i40 with the Sonata, the i40 looks as though it is moving while it is standing still. And that’s what Europeans want.

Why has the tourer arrived first?

First of all we were given it! But, secondly, if you were to ask me which one I would prefer to have first, it would be the tourer.

And that’s for the simple reason that we will sell more tourers than saloons – at the moment we are saying 60:40 in favour of the tourer – and I believe it might even be more than that.

The tourer has been met with really good reactions from fleets because they have appreciated the style associated with the tourer, and believe it is more stylish than many of the i40’s competitors.

There were fears the D-segment estate car was going to die out a few years ago. Do you think that’s changed?

Yes, definitely. I think what’s happened is that the mums who used to buy MPVs have realised that they don’t like driving them any more. But I also think there is a general move from MPVs back to estates because people now appreciate their practicality and their style. That’s shown by the number of estates in the D-segment increasing.

Does that mean we won’t be seeing more Hyundai MPVs in the future like the Trajet?

We currently do the ix20 and the large i800 as our MPVs. Do I think there is an opportunity for another MPV? There might be. I think the jury’s out on that because we currently haven’t got any plans to introduce anything in there. I think we need to concentrate on our two franchises: the volume cars – the i-range – and then the niche – Veloster, Santa Fe, and ix35 and ix20. We are trying to push that balanced model and from the dealers’ point of view that is great news as they have volume here and they have profit there.

Now is a great time to have a Hyundai franchise then?

Absolutely – we have people queuing up for it and we’re getting interest from people who are saying ‘we’d love to be with you guys’. But, for us, regional groups are very important. Regional groups have got local knowledge, but economies of scale, and have almost all of the benefits of an owner operator and almost all of the benefits of a big company.


James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

More stories...

Server 108