11 November 2008

Some (mostly) old Hyundai commercials

Between my upcoming road trip, which will have me drive a Hyundai product for an extended period for the first time ever (and soak me up in South Korean automotive culture while at it), and between my upcoming purchase of a Hyundai Genesis upon my return to the US, I am about to enter the mentality of a Hyundai owner.

YouTube has a number of Hyundai commercials, mostly for the South Korean domestic market, featuring the very cars that served as the predecessors to both my rental Sonata and soon-to-be-my-own Genesis. I will certainly carry the spirits of these important cars as I keep on driving.

First, a 1974 commercial for the original Pony, the first-ever South Korean-designed car, undergoing European and US crash tests and Norwegian severe weather testing. Hyundai certainly took great pride in introducing this car, saying that it was time for the Koreans to compete on the world stage with the most prestigious manufacturers of the world. And compete it certainly did.

Next, a 1983 commercial introducing the Stellar, an upscale sister of the Pony. It was little more than a rear-wheel-drive Ford Cortina with an Italdesign skin, but it nevertheless proved popular, including in the UK and Canada. Only failure to meet US emissions standards prevented the Stellar from being sold in the US market. It's a nice collectible today.

In 1985, the Sonata was introduced, as an upscale Stellar with a larger engine and luxury options. It never sold in significant numbers, however, and few people even remember it.

The real Sonata, a larger front-drive model, would follow in 1988, with considerably more success in the South Korean domestic market, but the Sonata never caught on in the US until 1999.

In all renditions, Hyundai has sold over four million Sonatas. South Korea accounted for over two million, and the US another one million. I certainly look forward to having one of them in my possession in a few days!

The Excel was also introduced in 1985, as Hyundai's first-ever front-drive car and its first US offering. From this point on, until the Genesis, Hyundai insisted on front-wheel drive for all its cars. This 1986 commercial introduces the Excel AMX to the South Korean domestic market; the "AMX" stands for American Export, and this trim features the larger bumpers, side reflectors, and other features that make it completely US-legal. The four-door sedan version was renamed the Presto AMX for the domestic market, while US versions kept the Excel name, and European versions (without the US-market AMX enhancements) kept the old Pony name.

These commercials point to the success of the Excel in the US as the car's selling point. But the Excel sold on price, never on quality. I consider the Excel to be Hyundai's worst car ever.

Update I am squeezing in another Excel commercial. This one dates from 1985, the very first year of Excel production. The commercial touts the car's advanced technologies, notably its front-wheel-drive architecture, the "in" thing at that time and a first for a South Korean car.

Notably, the car is referred to as the "Pony Excel" - meaning that the car is really a third-generation Pony. The "Pony" moniker was later dropped from the domestic models and never used on the US models, but it remained on the European models well into the 1990s. One of the prototypes in the commercial also wears the "X-Car" label, which was the internal Hyundai designation for the car during its development.

In 1991, Hyundai introduced the Elantra, which was the first South Korean car to feature DOHC technology. Its biggest selling point was its power and performance. The original Elantra sold poorly in the US, but from the second generation on, it sold very well, and spearheaded Hyundai's US renaissance.

At the same time, Hyundai was busy trying to convince would-be buyers that the Sonata, still in its first front-drive rendition, was a credible challenger to the likes of Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. At least it was a much bigger car than either Japanese competitor, and offered optional ABS.

At this time, the North American market Sonata was supplied from an assembly line in Quebec, Hyundai's first overseas manufacturing facility, but as Sonata sales were only a fraction of initial projections, the line closed in 1993, and all North American Hyundais were once again built in South Korea, until the 2006 Sonata from Alabama. Many of the Quebec-built Sonatas, with North America-only V6 engines, ended up back in South Korea as gray-market imports.

This commercial features a 1991 South Korean domestic model, in its upscale Gold trim, featuring that model year's facelift. This Sonata can still occasionally be spotted around Seoul. The pre-facelift originals are extremely rare today.

By the late 1990s, however, Hyundai cars had improved significantly, and Americans started actually buying them again, lured by the 10-year powertrain warranty. This allowed Hyundai to start introducing cars that were more upscale than the bread-and-butter Sonata. This commercial showcases the Grandeur XG, the third generation of the successful Grandeur line of luxury sedans, which indeed sold in the US as either the XG300 or the XG350, in modest numbers, starting in 2001.

At about the same time, something even nicer was introduced: the Equus, named after the posh equestrian lifestyle. It was a huge front-drive luxury car, Hyundai's flagship until the introduction of the Genesis, and remains in production. Comparable to the Cadillac De Ville, it was never offered in the US and in Europe, but sold very well in South Korea, and also sold handsomely in China and the Middle East. This is certainly NOT my kind of car, however. This is an international commercial done in American English.

Time to hit the jackpot. Here's a US commercial for the Genesis, aired during this year's Super Bowl. The car is, however, a South Korean domestic model with adaptive cruise control, a feature unavailable on the US-market Genesis (and something I wouldn't want, anyway).

Another Genesis option available in South Korea, but not in the US, is the adjustable air suspension. And honestly, I don't want that either. The fully loaded US-spec Genesis 3.8 appears to be pretty much ideally equipped for my tastes, and that's what I'll order as soon as I go home.

And here's the other Super Bowl commercial for the Genesis. I'll be very proud to put one in my garage, and carry the spirits of all its predecessors above (not to mention the spirit of my current South Korean sojourn). I certainly won't miss my BMW 3-series, especially with its baggage of reactionary politics!

Also, as the Genesis is a rear-drive model, it brings Hyundai around a full circle, and allows me to carry the spirit of my family's only other Hyundai ever - the rear-drive 1979 Pony that my father drove until 1988.