MINNEAPOLIS – With Hyundai’s first-half U.S. sales increase lagging that of the industry, the brand is hoping to boost its profile via a new marketing deal and redesigned CUV.
“(This is a) great opportunity for a brand, albeit 30 years in the market, that is still trying to prove itself against Japanese competitors that are 50 years-plus old and domestic competitors that are 100 years-plus old,” Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America CEO, tells WardsAuto of the brand’s newly inked deal as the official automotive sponsor of the National Football League.
Effective with the upcoming season, Hyundai’s sponsorship is multifaceted and should allow the brand to reach a wide demographic range, says Zuchowski, speaking on the sidelines of a ’16 Tucson media preview here.
“When you add in fantasy football, when you add in international (audiences, you find a) completely different demographic than the (traditional) NFL, but the engagement level is incredibly high,” he says.
Hyundai’s NFL-related marketing activities kick off with the start of the new U.S. professional football season in September. Hyundai says it will be able to use NFL trademarks in its advertising, promotional materials and branded-content activities.
The increasingly international reach of the NFL is one reason why Zuchowksi believes the organization was attracted to Hyundai. The South Korean automaker already is a sponsor overseas of the other game of football, soccer, and last year the automaker backed the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
“We’re a global company, and that was very intriguing to them, so it’s a good partnership,” he says of the NFL.
Zuchowski says Hyundai has done best in the U.S. when it has been on advertising’s bigger stages.
“When we grew the fastest, we got into big voices and big places, so this is just a huge voice and a huge place,” he says of the NFL, which has an estimated 188 million fans.
Hyundai replaces General Motors as the NFL’s automotive sponsor.
New Tucson Should Sell in Higher Volume
Meanwhile, the automaker also wants to make a bigger splash in the U.S. CUV sector with its redesigned Tucson compact model going on sale late this month.
“We recognize we’ve been slow to react to the crossover boom and that’s cost us some share, but I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to stop the migration from cars to crossovers,” Zuchowski says.
Compact CUVs are one of the industry’s fastest-growing vehicle types, but both first- and second-generations of the Tucson lagged their competitors.
For instance, Hyundai sold 47,306 Tucsons in the U.S. last year. The Honda CR-V tallied 335,019 sales, making it the No.1-selling CUV of any size in the States.
As Hyundai’s South Korean assembly plant will be able to produce more units for the U.S., HMA believes it can sell 90,000 Tucsons annually, enough to grow market share in the segment.
“For the last several years this area of the market, this small-compact CUV area, has (seen) just tremendous growth,” says Mike O’Brien, vice president-corporate and product planning at HMA.
O’Brien says attributes, such as “great practicality, great functionality, a nice commanding seating position, (and) good cargo capability,” are driving compact CUV growth, as is value.
“When you think about it, these products transact at the same prices as a midsize car, so you can walk into our showroom and look at a Sonata or a Tucson for about the same price,” he says.
WardsAuto places the Tucson in the Small CUV segment because it is smaller than the CR-V and other C-based CUVs.
The ’16 Tucson now is 3 ins. (7.6 cm) longer than the outgoing ’15 model, but remains shorter than the CR-V, as well as the segment’s other best-sellers the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.
O’Brien doesn’t see this as detrimental, saying buyers in the segment want maneuverability.
The ’16 Tucson begins at $22,700 for the new SE base grade with front-wheel drive and Hyundai’s 2.0L gasoline 4-cyl. The SE replaces the ’15 GLS entry model, which started at $21,650.
Eco, Sport and Limited grades have Hyundai’s 1.6L turbocharged and direct-injected I-4 and begin at $24,150, $26,150 and $29,900.
Magna’s Dynamax all-wheel-drive system can be added to all grades for $1,400.
The automaker expects the Limited grade to comprise 40% of the sales mix, with 25% of all ’16 Tucsons sold expected to be SE trim and roughly 17% Eco and 17% Sport models.
Hyundai has made no secret of its desire to grow its U.S. light-truck sales, but Zuchowski says the automaker still is waiting to see if it can get the Santa Cruz compact pickup concept into production.
HMA also is planning a B-segment CUV for the U.S., but prefers sheet metal more unique than that seen on Hyundai’s new ix25/Creta model sold overseas.
Timing for a subcompact CUV in the U.S. is undetermined, with Zuchowski saying it could come within four years’ time. He’s not worried about missing the boat, noting CUVs aren’t a temporary trend.
“(Plus, we’d) rather be a little bit later and have exactly the right product we think is going to work than rush it and have a compromised product.”