Hyundai to debut Genesis premium brand in China in two-three years: executive

Thu Sep 22, 2016 7:19pm EDT
 
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By Hyunjoo Jin and Tony Munroe

HANAM, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korea's Hyundai Motor (005380.KS: Quote) will launch its standalone premium auto brand Genesis in China within two to three years, betting on a luxury lane to profit as competition bites at the lower end of the world's biggest auto market.

Genesis brand chief Manfred Fitzgerald told Reuters in a recent interview the company is considering building Genesis models in China "For sure. But there are also other examples of (automakers) who live pretty well off of importing cars," he said, citing Toyota Motor Corp's (7203.T: Quote) Lexus.

The plans come as Hyundai tries to reverse out of 10 straight quarters of falling profit, hit in part by weakness in China.

Rolling out Genesis in key markets like China marks a shift for a company better known for making value-for-money cars and lacking the brand cachet and tradition of Germany's BMW BWMG.DE, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. That trio dominates the luxury market globally - and in China.

"The luxury customer in China is very brand-conscious," said U.S. national Fitzgerald, 53. The former executive with Audi's Lamborghini brand was speaking at the first, and so far only, standalone Genesis store, in a glitzy mall in Hanam on the outskirts of Seoul featuring cars like G80 sedans that can fetch up to 74 million won ($67,100).

"If you don't get your brand right, you can have the best product in the world, it won't work," said Fitzgerald. "In two, three years' time we will be entering China," he said, declining to give sales targets for a global rollout that will follow launches in Korea late last year and in the United States last month.

In China, imported cars carry a duty of more than 20 percent, putting pressure on automakers to produce locally.

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Manfred Fitzgerald, Head of Hyundai's Genesis brand, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Genesis Studio in Hanam, South Korea, September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji