A Talk With Hyundai’s Jose Munoz: Electrification, Safety and Unionization

Hyundai Global President and COO Jose Munoz discusses the automaker’s electrification strategy.

David Kiley, Senior Editor

October 4, 2023

5 Min Read
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José Muñoz is the global president and COO of Hyundai Motor Company and the president and CEO of Hyundai and Genesis Motor North America.

SUPERIOR TWP., MI – Hyundai Group is on a roll with sales, quality, EVs and safety ratings. The group consists of the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands collectively now the world’s third-largest automaker by volume. Wards talks with Hyundai Global President and Chief Operating Officer Jose Munoz, who also holds the title of president and CEO, Hyundai and Genesis Motor North America, at the group’s technology center here where the company is opening a new safety and accident investigation lab.

Wards: So, is Hyundai significantly expanding its footprint in the U.S.?

Munoz:: We are very focused on the American market. Yes, we are a South Korean company, but our culture here is very American. We are investing about $12 billion across the States; a new battery plant, for example, which is opening up opportunities for us to hire around 8,500 employees. According to some of the studies I have seen, (there are) about 14,000 more jobs in the areas of our investments. According to (the Center for Automotive Research), if you look at Hyundai Motor Co., without including the other group companies like Kia and Mobis, etc., we have created some 190,000 jobs in the U.S. Have we made it to the top? Well, I think we have a ways to go, but we are very proud of the positive impact we are having on America wherever we go.

Wards: The UAW is asking for a big hike in wages and benefits in current negotiations. Are you watching closely in regard to how that negotiation could impact the possibility of your employees organizing?

Munoz: We are paying attention very closely. As you know, we have very good union relations in South Korea, so we are very interested in what is happening. We try to offer our employees the very best treatment. And we just announced that we are going to pay our workers about *25% above the average.  Ultimately, it is up to our employees to decide on representation, and so far they have decided not to unionize.

*The average salary, not including benefits, of jobs created by HMGMA, its affiliate suppliers, and the battery joint venture, will be $58,105. Per research by the Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), this average wage is roughly 25% higher than the average wage in Bryan County ($47k). The original 8,100 new jobs with an average salary of $58,105 would create a local payroll totaling approximately $473.86 million a year, or $4.73 billion over 10 years – and more than $11.8 billion over 25 years (EDA is a 26-year requirement), spread throughout the community.  

Wards: If there is a strike, do you anticipate issues in the supply base cascading in such a way that would impact Hyundai Group production here in the U.S.?

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Munoz: I hope everyone will end discussions in a good way. Strikes are not good for anyone. We are a company whose supply base is heavily dominated by the Hyundai Group companies, so if there is one thing we have learned during the last few years during COVID is to find ways to keep going. So, we are keeping close communications with any suppliers outside the group who may be impacted by a strike against one of the automakers, or even all three. I think we were one of the companies that did the best in keeping parts and components flowing (during the pandemic). Of course, no one is exempt from having supply chain issues, but I think we are in a good place.

Wards: Hyundai has accelerated plans to localize battery-electric-vehicle and battery production. There is a presidential election next year. Candidates from one of the parties vow to roll back President Biden’s EV targets and policies if they get the chance. How will that impact Hyundai’s investment plans for America?

Munoz: We have a plan that we think is best for our customers. We can’t adjust the plans every couple of years because of trends in the political atmosphere. I was very vocal in my unhappiness that our cars would not qualify for the IRA legislation funding. We are a company that has committed the most, or close to the most, in new investment. We have an agreement with the State of Georgia. We believe the IRA is here to stay. We have doubled down in our investments in Savannah with LG. If the IRA provisions got rolled back, we would not be that much impacted because we are not qualifying for the funding that is available through it.

Wards: How do you see the road to reach these BEV mandates by 2032?



Munoz: We are one of the few companies that remains fully committed to a whole portfolio of vehicles: ICE vehicles, hybrid, plug-in hybrids, EVs and hydrogen. I think we have a lot of flexibility in our plans, our production system and supply chain. So, I believe we are prepared to succeed in the marketplace no matter what happens.

Wards: Hyundai brand has come such a long way in the last 20 years when it comes to quality, safety and design. Is there anything you can share about why more customers, or some customers, don’t really consider Hyundai?

Munoz: We have seen a fantastic evolution over the last 20 years as you say, and we have seen a max acceleration in in our reputation over the last five years. In that time, we have seen Chairman (Euisun) Chung accelerate our investments and commitment in safety engineering — both passive and active safety engineering. And in all the speeches he has given internally, he has delivered a strong message of “Safety First!” Safety is a foundation in the culture of the company. That is layered on top of our dedication to quality. If you are consistent and focused throughout the company on bringing safety to drivers, as well as pedestrians, step by step, it comes together. But it takes time.

About the Author(s)

David Kiley

Senior Editor, WardsAuto

David Kiley is an award winning journalist. Prior to joining WardsAuto, Kiley held senior editorial posts at USA Today, Businessweek, AOL Autos/Autoblog and Adweek, as well as being a contributor to Forbes, Fortune, Popular Mechanics and more.

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