New Genesis Chief Embraces Hyundai’s Audacious Goals

Erwin Raphael, who joined Hyundai from the former Chrysler Corp. in 2009 to improve quality, is the first U.S. general manager of the automaker’s new luxury brand.

April 12, 2016

2 Min Read
Genesis US General Manager Erwin Raphael
Genesis U.S. General Manager Erwin Raphael

NEW YORK – Erwin Raphael says it’s true his new Genesis brand has a lot of competition.

“We’ve got fierce competition. This is tough,” Raphael tells media here of the road Hyundai’s nascent luxury marque faces worldwide and in the U.S., where it is aiming to introduce six models, all in segments dominated by German luxury brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz or Japan’s Lexus.

“We’ve got all the big players that have been here for years and years and years,” he says. “They’re entrenched. They’re aspirational brands. And we’re the new kid on the block.”

Good thing for Hyundai then that Raphael says he loves a challenge, because he’s getting one soon. Genesis is prepping for its first model launch in the U.S., this summer’s debut of the G90 (formerly Hyundai Equus) sedan.

WardsAuto spoke briefly with Raphael, the newly appointed U.S. general manager of the brand, on topics including Genesis and luxury. Following is an edited transcript of the conversation:

WardsAuto: You’ve been all around the industry (International, Toyota, Chrysler). What’s made you stay in the Hyundai family for six years?

Raphael: I think there’s just incredible challenge you don’t want to walk away from. We set goals that are so big, almost audacious. On the one hand it’s intimidating. On the other hand you’re like, “I really want to make this happen.” And you think of what the world will be like and what you’ll be like down the road accomplishing this huge goal. And it’s just like a drug – you don’t want to walk away from it.

WardsAuto: Five years from now what are your hopes for the Genesis brand, or don’t you think that far out?

Raphael: Oh, we think much further out than that. That’s a wide open question. I’m less interested in the volume of cars we sell (than people looking) at Genesis and identifying luxury by Genesis. So we’re not looking at numbers. That’s irrelevant right now. We just want to make sure the brand is established well. (But I wouldn’t) say we’re not worried about sales.

WardsAuto: There’s a lot of talk about Tier 1 luxury, and those luxury brands who’ve achieved it and those who haven’t. Will Hyundai aim for Tier-1 luxury status with Genesis?

Raphael: I’m not sure I understand what Tier 1 luxury is. Look at that (Genesis New York concept sedan). I think that’s luxury and that’s what we’re aiming for. And (the refreshed Hyundai Genesis sedan, now called the G80) is luxury. And that’s what we’re aiming for. I think the market and you guys will tell us if we’re there.

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