Hyundai's light-truck onslaught changes the brand's identity

Hyundai's light-truck onslaught changes the brand's identity

- in Automotive

2020 Palisade: A new kind of flagship

LOS ANGELES — It may take consumers some time to get used to the new Hyundai.

Once a sedan-driven company, the Korean automaker has prepped an onslaught of freshened, redesigned and all-new utility vehicles that not only fill out its lineup, but are also redefining what the marque is known for.

Years ago, when cars dominated Hyundai’s lineup and powered its growth, the automaker would have touted the near-luxury Azera sedan as its flagship vehicle, says Mike O’Brien, vice president of product, corporate and digital planning for Hyundai Motor America.

But times have changed. Utility vehicles have commandeered the market and Hyundai has a new, big-body standard bearer in the 2020 Palisade.

The three-row Palisade is the latest offering in Hyundai’s ongoing effort to align its lineup with consumer preferences. The automaker launched the Kona, its first “cute ute,” this year, and has introduced a redesigned Santa Fe and freshened Tucson. A diesel-powered Santa Fe and a Kona EV are also on the way. The brand is also getting ready to debut an A-segment crossover in the near future that’ll reside below the Kona, and a pickup could be waiting in the wings. And it concocted the hydrogen-powered Nexo crossover, expected to launch in California by the end of the year, that will serve as a technological flagship.

That’s a lot of utility vehicles to introduce in a short period of time, so Hyundai is forging ahead with marketing campaigns that tout its “family of SUVs,” said Brian Smith, COO of Hyundai Motor America. The Palisade will have its time to shine, but Smith said the brand will also show “how it fits in with the broader Hyundai lineup.”

“What’s cool about Palisade is it is not just an additional SUV in our growing SUV lineup,” Smith said. “We’re finally getting critical mass where people look and [say], ‘My gosh,’ Hyundai’s got more SUVs than we do sedans. We’re becoming recognized now as an SUV company. That’s important for where the industry is moving.”

Hyundai’s biggest utility vehicle to date, the Palisade is longer, wider and taller than the outgoing Santa Fe XL. And Hyundai has a clear hit list that includes the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Volkswagen Atlas and Mazda CX-9.

Although it will take extra marketing legwork to build awareness around a new nameplate, O’Brien believes a fresh label was the best way to fairly represent the product. O’Brien said the Palisade shares nothing with the Santa Fe and is considerably larger.

The Palisade, which rides on a new chassis, goes on sale next summer and will be produced in Ulsan, South Korea. It’s powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 direct-injection engine that produces an estimated 291 hp at 6,000 rpm.

Hyundai’s revamped lineup will be matched by a streamlined decision-making structure that gives more control to Hyundai’s regional operations across the globe.

The U.S. unit will be housed within Hyundai Motor North America, an organization that includes Hyundai’s manufacturing hub in Alabama and three sales units: Hyundai Motor America, Hyundai Motor Canada and Hyundai Motor Mexico. The reorganization moves decisions on production closer to the market and could help end the long-running clash between lofty sales targets and production plans set in Korea and the limits of Hyundai’s typically car-heavy lineup and production capacity in the U.S.

“They’ve been headquartered in our office building,” Smith said of the North American division. “The goal was to make quicker decisions, and we’re already seeing the benefits of that. Production requests are happening very quickly.

“I think one of the most important parts of their responsibility is pricing, so getting that decision-making closer to North America is critical,” he said. “We’re having those kind of negotiations now. I’m excited about them being in our building.”

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