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"HYUNDAI is not
a One-Hit-Wonder company"

Interview with Michael Deitz
Manager, Product Planning of Hyundai Motor America

On May 22, 2008 i-Friedegg.com interviewed Michael Deitz at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA), in the city of Montgomery, AL, during the presentation to the press of the new 2009 Sonata. Mr. Deitz is a key person in the development and design of the new vehicle. This friendly and young executive meticulously dessected the new Sonata and exposed an interesting point of view about the perception of quality that customer had from Hyundai in the past. That's what he told us.

By PEPE FORTE, i-friedegg.com publisher and a SAMA member.

—Earlier in the morning today I asked Mr. Hosford an evaluation of the first three years of HMMA. What do you have to say about it?

   —Well, we have our facility that is in Superior Township in Auburn, Michigan, working with us in California at the Hyundai Design Center in Fountain Valley, and we have the testing facility in Irvine, and we work together as a team with HMMA. So when we are asked to do an evaluation as a factory —HMMA— as well, we have to look at the whole thing, everybody has to be involved... what we are looking at, what we are happy with, what we are not happy with, since we are working as team together, and HMMA as a part of the whole thing has been doing an excellent job for the first three years. 

   —What's the main difference between the prior models of the Sonata and this new, I mean, 'refreshed' 2009?

   —About the 2009 Sonata, this is our first model where most of the development worked for it actually occurred here in America. But, No. 1 I'd say its more than one item obviously, it's been over one thousand items changed, but must importantly, given the economic clima that we are in —the fuel economy—, the new 4 cylinder engine is a must. The I-4 engine has been upgraded and now we have 175hp —previously was 162— along with that we've improved the fuel economy, so now is 22 and 32 and that surpasses the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. And we've done it adding also to the 4 cylinder engine a 5 speed transmission. Our 4 cylinder engines were coming from Korea, our 6 cylinder engine started here to support the plant here. This new 4 is strong in performance and we aren't really sacrificing anything by going to a 4 cylinder now. Just a few years ago you couldn't get out 175hp from a 4 cylinder. Now you can get it in a 4, with 22/32 of fuel economy. This is a very important step for Hyundai, specifically in engine technology. This are all aluminum engines, and the 4 cylinders and the 6 are modern powerplants with low emission. We tailored this car to the U.S taste by making the seat cushions softer, wider and making it longer, more to the American frame size, bodies, you know, the nation's market.


   —In the previous Sonata the air conditioned outlets were positioned in the center stack at a lower level —which by the way I loved it because it was a truly different design when compared to the rest of the cars in the category—. However, in the 2009 model they've been placed in a "northern" position. What are the advantages of this new design?

   —It wasn't just the air vents... It was also the ducts behind them, that were reworked as a part of the thousand items changed, the instruments cluster, etc. But the answer is simple: to improve the airflow to the second row seats. That way is more effective in cooling down the entire cab quicker. If you seat in the back seat you can actually feel the airflow now; in the previously you didn't feel the airflow.

—Who is the company's flagship, the Sonata or the Azera?

   —Currently the Sonata is our volume model... midsize volume model. The Azera holds the flagship position today, but just in a very short time —like next month— we will be introducing the Genesis that would really step above the Azera and it will become the flagship. That's a really sport luxury performance sedan. It's a rear wheel drive car and we'll have very good fuel economy performance on both of our V-6 and V-8 on that car, we are talking high-end input engines with 290hp on the V-6, 3.8 liter and 375 hp from the V-8.

   —Do you somehow regret to place a V-8 in the market in a such unfriendly and adverse gas price scene of today?

   —No, and that's actually one of the things said. In just about a couple of weeks we'll have some exciting news to share about the fuel economy numbers on the V-8. So you can get the V-8 luxury car —and not to mention the 375hp— but to have a better fuel economy than in few of our V-6 competitors.

—I know that you have a very interesting explanation about the bad quality perception that the customers had of Hyundai in the past. Tell me about it please.

   —It's not just an explanation, it's facts and statistics that we've got from focus groups, talking with the customers and from the maintenance and  warranty records as well, and we found out that many of the people who bought specifically the original Excel, they bought it because of the low price —that was $4995 when the Excel came out in 1985—. Some people, by their nature, maintain cars, but there's a large number of people who don't... specially when they come to the fact that they only paid about 4 thousand bucks for a brand new car and you know how it goes... oh, no, no, I'm not gonna do anything to it and this and that... so, they didn't change the oil, they didn't take care of the car at all... it's all in the records! And as a result you know the consequences. You have to properly maintain a car. That's part of our requirements now even with our warranty that is very specific that you need to maintain the car, you have to observe your scheduled maintenance. I think that's part of learning and being in the market. We are still relatively a new company, we are only 40 years old and for the auto world that's a young company. And we've been about 25 years in America. So it's all part of that learning process, educating customers as well as educating us as a company makes the market.

   —Why this... explanation... has not been publicly revealed by Hyundai?

  —We don't need that, we like to actually look forward, we don't need to be walking in the past. And we have equally as many stories in the good side of the story, people drove our car let's say for five years, they've just bought another car, then they gave it to the mother, she drove it for another two years, then drop it to like... the nephew, people who drove the car for another two years. So we have this kind of stories of people who just really drove the car for almost 10 years or more and they were satisfied.

  —When is the totally new Sonata coming out?

   —The entire new platform will be out en 2010 as 2011 model. An that's an exciting product...

   —Can you provide some details?

   —Well... no. But just think in today's refresh that you saw and drove, we did all that work for two years, and that tells you about No.1: How serious we are about Sonata and, No.2: How quickly we work, because if you think about it, we started to work on this changes right around the same time we were launching back in 2005, and immediately after launching we started to make those changes.

   —How do you see Hyundai in the auto marketplace of today?

   —We are doing fine. This isn't just a coincidence. This isn't just a one time... that Hyundai produces a good car, the wonder car... because you've already seen that we produce many good cars that are in the marketplace. In the music industry when an artist produces one good song and that's it, they call it 'one-hit-wonder'. Well, this is not Hyundai. We've been producing a number of good cars over the last five years and we will continue introducing dependable, reliable and fun to drive cars. We will make desirable cars with the i-Pod connectivity, the USB, the Navigation System with the voice commands... because cars are sexy!, it's about hitting to the emotion appeal with the consumer. Consumers today are surrounded by technology, and we have put as much technology in the car as well.

   —Thanks a lot for your time, Mike.

   —You're welcome, Pepe.

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