When Don Romano came on board as president and CEO of Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. in 2014, his goal was to direct the brand to new places. He immediately went to work developing new initiatives based on a growth-centric strategic plan with a foundation in the essentials: research and analysis.
According to third-party surveys, Hyundai ranked in the industry’s top five for quality, yet customers primarily chose Hyundai for its value proposition. “We weren’t getting credit for the extraordinary quality we were producing,” says Romano. “There was a significant brand gap, and my job was to bridge that gap.”
Romano knew that shifting public perception of Hyundai from a discount brand to a premium brand was going to require an innovative and multifaceted strategy. He and his team began by developing a four-part plan to change the look of Hyundai dealerships. The team implemented a new training process and certification program for dealers that allows for an easier customer experience and changed the way dealers interact with customers. The introduction of a new, sophisticated marketing campaign highlighted the elegance and quality of Hyundai products. Finally, the company developed three new and distinct products and brands to join Hyundai’s fleet.
“We knew we needed to change our look at retail facilities to signify the change at the corporate level,” Romano says. As a result, Hyundai dealerships were remodeled to feature metallic motifs instead of primary colors. Décor became elegant and subtle, minimalistic and simple. The purpose of this design, says Romano, was to neutralize the environment’s affect on the product, which would allow the quality of the product to speak for itself. “The car needed to be more important than the place,” explains Romano. “Like how a high-quality diamond is best displayed on a simple band.”
What really speaks to the plan to change public perception is the way that Hyundai dealers interact with their customers. The company hired J.D. Power to develop the Hyundai Signature Certification Program, which requires dealers to recertify every year to maintain higher and higher customer service standards. “We asked our dealers to make the car-buying experience easier, transparent, and even enjoyable for the customer,” says Romano. Instead of dedicating most of the discussion to the financing, dealers were asked to spend more time discussing the quality of the vehicle. Romano’s team has even started to develop technology that would take care of financing online so the customer can review plans from the comfort of their home. “We needed to change the process,” he says. “So we spend more time getting the customer acquainted with the product and personalizing every detail for them before they drive away.”
“The car needed to be more important than the place. Like how a high-quality diamond is best displayed on a simple band.”
A rebranding of Hyundai’s marketing strategy accompanied the other facility and program changes. Hyundai launched its “H-Factor” campaign across traditional media platforms, which surprised consumers, as the campaign presented a whole new side of the company. For example, Hyundai is the only car company that makes its own steel, and that assurance of quality from start to finish is a key “H-factor.” The proprietary, durable, high-strength steel that makes up more than half of Hyundai vehicles is an H-Factor itself, as is Hyundai’s elaborate service structure and the technology that removes pain points in the car-buying process. Every little thing about Hyundai that demonstrates its exceptional quality is considered an H-Factor.
The capstone of this growth initiative will showcase H-Factor in a powerful way. As Hyundai continues its horizontal expansion by introducing new products to its existing lines, Romano plans to push the company’s vertical edges by introducing new products to the lineup. Hyundai is the only car company in Canada that sells hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicles, and the soon-to-be-launched “Ioniq” brand champions fuel-efficient eco-cars. The “N” brand will feature high-performance sport vehicles for the adventurous driver. And “Genesis,” Hyundai’s new premium luxury brand, is set to introduce the G90 this summer. Each of these new brands will stand on its own as an individual venture but will boast those distinctive “H-Factor” characteristics that come from their Hyundai foundation.
Twenty years ago, Hyundai was a small name in the car industry, but today it’s one of the top fifty brands in the world—and it’s just getting revved up. “I believe that if we move together as an organization, we will achieve our goals,” says Romano. “We will be a brand that people aspire to own.” To do so, Romano and his team are committed to being adaptable, innovative, and fearless enough to not only keep up with the rapid pace of the auto industry, but to remain ahead of the curve.
“Hyundai is perfectly suited for the challenge because we are constantly reinventing ourselves,” Romano says. That dedication to reinvention, matched with growth plans as strong and ambitious as Romano’s, means that Hyundai is not only along for the ride—it’s buckled into the