Hyundai has come a long way.
It was 1985, while I was serving as editor of the Phoenix Business Journal, that a representative from the South Korean automaker came into my office to introduce his company, which was just arriving in the U.S. market.
"It's pronounced 'hun-day,'" he said. "It rhymes with Sunday."
I was reminded of that while watching this year's Super Bowl, during which Hyundai ran a few commercials.
One of them, touting the all-new Genesis luxury car, has a Hyundai representative repeating that "Hyundai rhymes with Sunday" line.
After nearly 14 years in the United States, Hyundai still struggles to get people to pronounce the company's name correctly, and the Super Bowl ad took aim at that.
The ad had a bigger message: With all of the recent great Hyundai vehicles, and especially now with the Genesis in its lineup, this automaker has finally arrived.
But it's still amazing to me how many people can't pronounce the name, though -- even people in the auto industry who should have known how to say "Hyundai" a long time ago. Even some Hyundai salespeople and dealers can't seem to get it right.
And during a conference call earlier this month with a knowledgeable auto industry analyst, who was discussing January's mostly dismal vehicle sales reports, the man kept referring to the company as "hun-die," rather than "hun-day." And this man's office is just a few miles from Hyundai's U.S. headquarters in Fountain Valley, Calif.
The analyst did note that Hyundai's January sales were up 14 percent over the same month last year, making the automaker one of only two to show sales gains for the month. The other was Subaru, up 8 percent.
Hyundai's gain was the result of its great product line, its value-pricing strategy, and, perhaps most of all, its new "Hyundai Assurance" plan, under which the automaker pledges to buy back any new Hyundai during the first year of ownership if the buyer becomes unemployed or can't work because of health problems.
The Super Bowl ads were intended to boost the company's once very low public image in the U.S. market, touting such things as the choice of the new Genesis as the "North American Car of the Year" in conjunction with the recent Detroit auto show.
This new luxury car -- without a luxury nameplate, but a luxury car nonetheless -- also received recognition from the Web site About.com as the "Best New Car of 2009."
It also was named a "Top 5 Luxury Car for 2009" by NADAguides.com, the consumer Web site operated by the National Automobile Dealers Association.
This full-size sedan also earned five-star safety ratings for both front and side impacts in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Michael Deitz, Hyundai Motor America's product planning manager, suggests that the Genesis "has the technology and features comparable to the world's leading premium sports sedans at a value Mercedes and BMW can't beat."
The car has the look and feel of a large, premium European sedan, but with a much lower starting price: just $33,000 (including $750 freight) for a very well-equipped 290-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 model, and $38,000 for the 4.6-liter V-8 model with an impressive 375 horsepower.
Hyundai said it expects the Genesis to "compete for customers with cars like Lexus ES, Chrysler 300 and Cadillac CTS," but added that it has performance capabilities and luxury features are "comparable to sedans costing tens of thousands of dollars more."
The Genesis rides on a new rear-wheel-drive vehicle platform that Hyundai developed specifically for a luxury car, and it has an advanced five-link suspension at all four corners to give it both the ride and handling that consumers expect in a premium sedan.
Both engines come with six-speed automatic transmissions, although the gearboxes are different for each model.
With premium fuel, the V-8 has the 375 horsepower, but it's also designed to run on regular gas. The horsepower drops just slightly, to 368, with regular, but Hyundai says the car still outperforms "all competitors in specific output," which is the amount of horsepower per liter of engine displacement.
The Genesis has impressive EPA fuel economy numbers for a car with this much power -- 17 mpg city/25 highway for the V-8 and 18/27 for the V-6. Hyundai notes that this is better than many V-6 engines in smaller, midsize cars.
High-tech features abound in the Genesis, as one would expect in a premium vehicle. Available are such items as XM NavTraffic, adaptive headlights, Lexicon audio systems and electronic active head restraints.
Standard on the V-6 model are electronic stability control with traction control, antilock brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags, the electronic front head restraints, fog lights, automatic headlights, dual power/heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators, heated leather seats with power adjustment up front, cruise control, white and blue interior lighting, keyless entry with pushbutton start, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with audio controls, dual front fully automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with universal garage opener and compass, AM/FM/CD/MP3/XM audio system with iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks, Bluetooth and floor mats.
The V-8 models come with most of the features of the V-6, plus 18-inch silver alloy wheels, chrome lower body side moldings, upgraded leather seats, leather-wrapped dash and door trim inserts, power glass sunroof with tilt and slide, power tilt-and-telescopic steering column, integrated memory system, Lexicon surround -sound audio system, six-disc CD changer, illuminated scuff plates, wood-trimmed leather steering wheel, power rear sunshade and rain-sensing wipers with auto-defogger windshield.
Options include a navigation system, backup camera and ultrasonic parking assist. The Lexicon audio system, which also comes in the Rolls Royce Phantom, has 15 speakers, 500 watts of power and an HD digital radio.
The car seats five, and as a full-size sedan, it's quite roomy for both front and rear passengers, with lots of rear legroom even when the front bucket seats are pushed all the way back on their tracks.
The car comes with Hyundai's great warranty, which includes five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection, along with 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage, seven-year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation protection, and 24-hour roadside assistance for five years with no mileage limit.
Towing, lockout service and trip-interruption expenses are included.
G. Chambers Williams III
Special to the Star-Telegram
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995.