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Flashback time as Hyundai turns 20

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on January 20, 2018

Big ticket Another big blockbuster for Hyundai was the recently launched Creta SUV

Very visible, more aggresive now

It did not have the halo of a Toyota, Honda or Fiat which were well known brands in India 20 years ago. Yet, when this relatively unknown Korean brand first threw down the gauntlet to Maruti Suzuki, it was only a matter of time before Hyundai became a household name across the country.

Last week, the company celebrated 20 years here since the time it first laid the foundation stone for its Chennai facility. Less than three years thereafter, it unveiled the Santro and Accent at the 1998 Auto Expo in Delhi.

This event also showcased the Tata Indica which was grabbing all the eyeballs then. After all, this was a car from the most respected corporate house in India which was making a strong statement of local competence. The Indica may have been the star of the Auto Expo but Hyundai was not too far behind with the Santro.

Growing stronger

Even while reactions to its ‘Tall Boy’ design were mixed, this compact car caught the fancy of the market and customers began queuing up at showrooms. The only other model that had evoked a similar response in the ‘90s was the Fiat Uno which garnered nearly three lakh bookings but could not sustain the momentum. While the Uno gradually fizzled out, the Santro grew from strength to strength.

The 1998 Auto Expo was also the time Suzuki and the Centre were at loggerheads with Maruti being the biggest casualty in the bargain. Eventually, it paved the way for privatisation of the company and Suzuki soon got into the driver’s seat.

Hyundai also pulled off a marketing coup by roping in Shah Rukh Khan as its brand ambassador. He was already a force to reckon with in Hindi cinema and his association with this Korean brand worked like a charm in forging customer connect. The product, of course, was the key and sales of the Santro and Accent soared.

Along the way, there were hiccups in the form of the Getz and Elantra which did not make too much of an impact. By this time, Hyundai was well and truly going global as it set up shop in the US and Europe. Reports began doing the rounds that India was perhaps not so important in relative terms but this was not quite the case.

Pushing harder

Over the last few years, Hyundai has been stepping on the gas a lot more aggressively and the i10 and i20 have set the sales numbers ticking all over again. Another big blockbuster was the recently launched Creta SUV which is comfortably doing over 5,000 units every month.

The entry-level Eon was another significant part of the India journey where the R&D team pulled out all stops to make it a reality. Positioned in the sub-Rs 3 lakh range, it could have done a lot better but was launched during the time diesel was the flavour of the market. Today, the Eon has made up lost ground but it is a moot point if these numbers truly reflect its overall potential.

The Santro has now been discontinued and the i10 represents the face of the more contemporary Hyundai. On the anvil this year is the new Elantra scheduled to debut in August. India is among the company’s biggest markets today though catching up with Maruti is not going to be easy. Yet, Hyundai deserves kudos for its relentless march in the world’s most competitively priced car arena even as other brands are struggling to build market share.

Published on May 12, 2016

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