Hyundai Sales Soar as the British Think Really, Really Small
By Andy Bannister
European scrappage schemes – the equivalent of America’s Cash for Clunkers – have been instrumental in turning round new car sales in many markets, but the effects have thrown up some surprising results, not least in Britain where a striking phenomenon has been the startling rise of Hyundai.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and for the Koreans this appears to be only too true. Everything changes in a recession, and Hyundai in particular has seized the chance to make that elusive breakthrough into mass-market acceptance.
From being a tiny niche player a few years ago, when its early Pony models were sneered at, Hyundai topped the British sales charts this August, beating both of the traditional market leaders – Ford and GM’s Vauxhall division – in terms of private sales, as opposed to companies, which traditionally buy fleet models from the two big players.
Although Hyundai has been developing its range upwards of late, most of this UK success was down to the stunning sales of one model – the tiny Indian-built i10 city car – which accounted for two thirds of Hyundai’s British transactions in August. The i10 was third best seller overall, behind Ford’s Fiesta and Focus, easily outselling other longer-established models in the top ten like the Vauxhall Corsa and Astra, VW’s Golf and Toyota’s Yaris.
So far Hyundai’s British sales are up almost 55% in 2009, making it one of the few winners in this most difficult of years, along with Smart (up 7.3%), fellow Korean marque Kia (up 16.2%) and Italy’s Alfa Romeo (up a surprising 20% on the back of the new Mito small car).
By contrast, Ford sales have fallen overall by 11%, with Fiat down 17% and Peugeot down 21%. Some of the Japanese car makers (who prospered in previous recessions) have also taken big hits, with Mitsubishi declining by 46% and Daihatsu sales down 50%.
BMW’s formerly bulletproof Mini brand is down 23%, while Renault is the worst hit of the big players, with sales sinking a hefty 54%. The wooden spoon for performance, however, goes to the troubled Chrysler marque, with year-to-date UK sales tumbling by a whopping 70%.
For Hyundai, the arrival of the very competent new i10 and its larger brother, the i20 (a more substantial Fiesta-sized hatchback), came at just the right time. The company has been making hay with its small models under the Government’s scrappage scheme (which brings the cost of a new car down by £2000 – $3280 – when trading in a roadworthy car over ten years old).
Hyundai’s UK bosses are putting this sales surge down to canny customers spotting a good solid product in the shape of the i10, a car no doubt far too small for American tastes but much more appealing to motorists feeling the pinch in the congested cities of the old continent.
It helps that the i10 is simply miles better than its rather lame predecessor, the Hyundai Amica, and it seems most sales are based on personal recommendations, rather than a huge advertising blitz.
The little Hyundai isn’t short of rivals – the Suzuki Alto, Nissan Pixo, Citroën C1, Toyota Aygo, Renault Twingo are among many competitors – but none seemed to have hit the spot with buyers in quite the same way.
Despite its miniscule size (much smaller than it looks in pictures) the i10 is a useful five-door runabout with an 1100cc engine as standard with a lower powered 1000cc available as a lower-priced special edition. The build quality and equipment of these cars is surprisingly good – all versions get alloy wheels and body coloured bumpers, central locking, air conditioning, side airbags and MP3/CD player.
For town driving they are reasonably spritely, economical and offer a unexpectedly comfortable and relaxed driving environment. The i10 qualifies for low annual road tax thanks to well-controlled CO2 emissions, and Hyundai’s five year warranty that low starting price are among other key benefits.
The market is a confusing one at the moment, distorted by scrappage deals and an obsession with downsizing. No-one knows at the moment if customer preferences have shifted permanently or not.
The challenge for the Koreans, and for Hyundai in particular, will be to keep its new army of buyers on board and moving up the range as confidence returns and more prestigious badges begin to look affordable again.
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