Hyundai tries again to crack Japan with electric, high-tech, online strategy

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TOKYO — Hyundai Motor Co. is a global success from Bangalore to Baltimore, but there is one market right next door where the company’s badge has long been missing: Japan.

The South Korean automaker pulled out of the market in 2009, after a dismal run in Japan. But now, Hyundai will take a second crack at the country with a high-tech twist.

Hyundai said on Tuesday that it will re-enter the Japan car market this spring with a focus on zero-emissions full-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles sold through an all-online sales network.

The automaker is betting that clean, green digital gadgetry will appeal to younger Japanese buyers who are also more open to trying South Korean imports, thanks to the local success of electronics brands such as Samsung and an affinity for hip Korean culture trends in some corners.

To leverage the new spirit, Hyundai is even rebranding its local subsidiary Hyundai Mobility Co., dumping the oh-so-20th century “Motor” in the name. At the forefront will be two of Hyundai’s most advanced offerings, the new Ioniq 5 electric crossover and the Nexo hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Hyundai will start taking orders in May, with deliveries starting in July.

Hyundai quit the Japanese market in December 2009 after only eight years in the country, still known for its picky consumers and loyal to homegrown brands.

Hyundai sold just more than 15,000 passenger vehicles in Japan over its first eight years. At the time, Volkswagen Group, the biggest selling import, was selling around 60,000 annually.

Hyundai’s retreat from Japan came only a year after archrival Toyota said it would launch its flagship Toyota brand in the Korean market.

Japanese brands such as Toyota initially gained traction in South Korea, but in recent years they have struggled against both European imports and native son champions Hyundai and Kia. Nissan, for example, said in 2020 it would withdraw from South Korea.

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