Commentary

The term “juggernaut” conjures up an image of a hulking vehicle moving inexorably forward.

But the vehicle that symbolizes Hyundai’s relentless push to global dominance of the automotive world is hardly that. It’s the elegant Equus luxury car.

Based on the Genesis rear-drive platform that has forever changed the Korean auto maker’s image as a producer of cheap econoboxes, the Equus is proof Hyundai can compete with the world’s best luxury brands at the highest levels, echoing what Toyota did 20 years ago with its pioneering Lexus LS 400 sedan.

It took BMW 25 years to become a credible contender with Mercedes-Benz. It took Lexus only a few years to do the same. Hyundai appears to be moving even faster.

Strong products such as the new Sonata sedan, innovative marketing campaigns such as its job-loss vehicle return policy and a 10-year/100,000 mile (161,000 km) warranty are key reasons Hyundai’s U.S. market share has soared from 0.6% in 1998 to almost 5% this year.

But there is another cultural dynamic at work as well.

“The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” is a well-known Lexus tagline. Hyundai’s philosophy could more appropriately be termed, “The Ruthless Pursuit of Perfection.”

That’s because executives and vehicles that do not meet the auto maker’s exacting requirements are fired and killed off with frightening speed.

Earlier this month, Hyundai affiliate Kia Motors Vice Chairman Chung Sung-eun resigned following the announcement of a number of embarrassing product quality recalls.

More heads likely will roll following Hyundai’s recent recall of 139,500 Sonatas due to a steering defect.

The old General Motors frequently was criticized for rarely dismissing executives and keeping around underperforming vehicles and brands way too long.

That is not how it works at Hyundai. Sometimes top U.S. executives there are sacked before journalists barely get to know them.

The same goes with product. The Kia Borrego SUV and Rondo multipurpose vehicle are decent utes that only have been in the U.S. market two years and three years, respectively.

But neither has been selling very well, so, boom, they are being killed off to make room on the assembly line for more popular products.

At Hyundai, there is no watchful waiting and hoping to see if conditions will improve. Executives and vehicles prove themselves immediately, or they are gone.

It may not be a very comfortable environment for executives, but it is one that delivers results. That’s why the Equus is such a surprisingly good car, and that’s why Hyundai is destined to become one of the world’s great auto makers.

dwinter@wardsauto.com