My uncle’s first car was a Santro. A Zip Plus in fact, peddled by a star as glamorous as Shah Rukh Khan. In fact, he’s probably the longest-serving brand ambassador for any brand but that’s the subject of another story, some other day. My uncle meanwhile used his metallic blue Santro Zip Plus for a good ten years before upgrading to a bigger car. Which, incidentally, turned out to be another Hyundai, a silver i20 petrol. That was six years ago. My daddy-in-law meanwhile got himself a Hyundai Eon when he moved back to Kolkata from Delhi after retirement a few years ago and then added an Elite i20 to his garage. So what is it that makes a Hyundai customer stay loyal to the family? Over a period of 20 years, Hyundai has built itself a solid reputation based on world-class manufacturing practices, a diverse portfolio of excellent products and robust after sales. As a result, today Hyundai lays proud claim to being the second largest car manufacturer in the country and is easily the most preferred premium car brand in India. The first milestone in this 20-year journey, of course, was the launch of the Hyundai Santro back in 1998.
The best way to predict the future is to invent it
It was a time when cash was better than plastic and buttons controlled what you saw on screen. Connectivity was at the mercy of the state run telephone network, exorbitant mobile phone service providers – mobile phones being a luxury, and dial up internet that could just about outrun a tortoise. And room was something you talked about if you were buying a house. It didn’t apply much in the world of cars and certainly not in a hatchback. But newcomer Hyundai turned things on their heads by taking a page out of American computer scientist Alan Kay’s books who had famously said that the best way to predict the future was to invent it.
That space is something even a hatchback customer would want is not something the Indian car industry would have woken up to at the time had it not been for the Santro. Its tall boy design, rear leg room and ease of ingress/egress set it apart from the established competition of the time. Suddenly you didn’t have to crouch in the rear seat of the family hatch. You could sit comfortably. A valuable tenet that continues to serve Hyundai well even today. Take a look at the Grand i10 for instance. The successor to the old i10, the Grand i10 continues to offer space as a highlight feature in a compact car. The ease of ingress/egress, the rear legroom and the headroom on offer ensure that the passenger or the driver is in a comfortable environment that he values. It was a lesson learnt with the Hyundai ‘tall boy’ Santro.
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Value for money is not about being cheap
Another lesson learnt with the Santro, and later the Accent Viva in particular, is that innovative design is a selling point. Although the car has been gone from the Indian landscape for many years now, we all still remember the clamshell instrumentation of the Santro. The fastback design of the Accent Viva’s boot meanwhile gave it a sporty flourish that no other Indian vehicle of the time offered. Be it the Elite i20, the Verna, Creta or Tucson, all ICOTY winning products, Hyundai has always managed to strike the right tone with its innovative design and styling, especially with the introduction of the Fluidic 2.0 design philosophy. Even on the quality front, Hyundai has always stayed ahead of the game.
Setting a benchmark in an environment where the established competition is entrenched too deep is never easy. One needs that little bit extra to be able to dislodge them and in Hyundai’s case, the company figured that the best way to do this would be to offer quality and technology. Rather than create products to a price where the buyer inevitably compromised on the aspirational in favor of the functional, Hyundai is one of those rare manufacturers who found a way to offer the aspirational also.
Products like the Elite i20 with its touchscreen infotainment system, the Verna with its cooled seats and the Creta with its wireless charging and sunroof are pushing the boundaries of value. So much so, that over the past two decades the Indian car buyers’ notion of value-for-money has actually transformed from ‘cheap’ to a more logical relationship between price and product.
Meanwhile, you no longer have to settle for shoddy plastics and passable design. In a Hyundai, you get absolutely top drawer quality that makes you feel like you own a premium product. Just jog your memory and go back to the beige interiors of the old and flat bodied Accent. Nothing in that era looked as premium in that class of vehicles. Hyundais of today continue with the trend of offering class-leading quality in all its products.
Be it their advanced VTVT technology or the now familiar CRDi diesel engines, Hyundai’s vehicles have been powered by engines that have set the benchmark in their segment, from the very beginning. It’s a trait that continues and serves the company rather well. The Grand i10, therefore, is available not only with a 1.2-litre Kappa dual VTVT petrol engine that offers the choice between a five-speed manual and a four-speed auto, but also a 1.2-litre CRDi turbo-diesel. The Elite i20, on the other hand, gets the same refined 1.2-litre Kappa dual VTVT petrol engine but with the option of a CVT. Then, of course, there is the delightfully peppy 1.4-litre CRDi turbo-diesel mated to a six-speed gearbox. The Verna offers no less than three engine options – a 1.4-litre Kappa dual VTVT petrol, 1.6-litre dual VTVT petrol, and 1.6-litre CRDi turbo-diesel. You also get the option of choosing between manual and automatic transmissions. The Creta too offers a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes and three engine options – 1.6-litre dual VTVT petrol, 1.4-litre CRDi turbo-diesel, and the 1.6-litre CRDi VGT turbo-diesel. In the case of the Tucson, there’s the choice of two engine options – a 2-litre petrol and 2-litre turbo-diesel along with the options manual and automatic transmissions and 2WD and AWD.
While the options are varied what binds them all under one banner is the fact that in their respective classes, these powertrains often offer class-leading performance and efficiency. Both, critically important in today’s day and age where the customer doesn’t really want to compromise. The fact that these powertrains are also very high on refinement helps emphasise the premium appeal of each of these Hyundai products.
Hyundai’s last 20 and the next 20
From 1998 to 2018, it has been one milestone after another. From the launch of the Santro that had caught my uncle’s attention back in 1998 to the present day, Hyundai has rolled out a staggering eight million cars. Over 5.3 million of these have been sold in India while a humongous 2.7 million have been exported over the years. The Grand i10, Elite i20, and Creta are each member of what the company calls 10 Thousand Club and have sold 10,000 units each. Not only has Hyundai garnered commercial success but also critical acclaim picking up award after award. Of the nine products on sale currently, four have won the prestigious ICOTY over the years. Coupled to the ICOTY that was awarded to the old i10, it makes Hyundai the only manufacturer to have won five ICOTY titles over its 20-year existence. This, apart from a host of other awards and titles for its products. Not to mention, it exports vehicles to no less than 88 nations around the world.
But if the past 20 have been bright, the next 20 might be brighter still if one were to consider what’s in the pipeline. The company’s target is to roll out the 10th million vehicle from its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Chennai as early as the first half of 2021.
To strengthen the robust product lineup, even more, eight new models will be launched between 2018 and 2020, including an all-electric SUV. While the previous financial year has seen a record 6.78 lakh Hyundais sold, this year’s plan calls for a more aggressive sales strategy that will put more seven lakh Hyundai cars on roads in India and abroad. Needless to say, the aim is to be the undisputed market leader with top performing products.