- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

Robert Cosmai had been in his job as president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America for about 70 whirlwind days when he stopped in Detroit for his first news briefing with automotive journalists.

Mr. Cosmai (pronounced Cos-may), who did stints in sales with Ford and Nissan before joining Hyundai five years ago, was promoted from vice president of sales to the top post of the Korean automaker’s U.S. sales arm upon the departure of Finbarr O’Neill, who went to Mitsubishi in September.

In his first days on the job, Mr. Cosmai made a couple of major announcements. Among them, Hyundai will continue its 10 year/100,000-mile warranty through the 2008 model year. After suffering quality problems and subsequent plunging sales, Hyundai launched the very long warranty on Nov. 1, 1998, to provide customers with peace of mind.

The warranty — along with significant quality improvements — boosted Hyundai’s sales. Mr. Cosmai noted that the year he joined Hyundai the company was losing money, and sales had plummeted 20 percent to about 90,000 vehicles. “We had more guys turning the brand than were signing up for it,” Mr. Cosmai said.

For 2003, Hyundai, which has had three consecutive years of record-setting sales, is on track for another record. Sales are expected to be 7 percent higher, breaking the 400,000-vehicle mark.

Mr. Cosmai also announced Hyundai’s new small sport utility vehicle will be called the Tucson, in keeping with the Southwest theme started with Hyundai’s other sport utility, the Santa Fe. The Tucson, to be introduced at the Chicago auto show, goes on sale in the fall of 2004 to compete against the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

“Clearly what makes a vehicle successful is great quality, performance and features at a great price,” Mr. Cosmai said. “However, a great name helps capture all that in a single word, and we believe Tucson embodies the spirit of fun and adventure inherent in our latest SUV.”

The Tucson is smaller than the Santa Fe, which has been setting sales records since it was introduced to the U.S. market in 2000. The Tucson will be offered in both front- and all-wheel-drive and will come with a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder or optional 2.7-liter V-6 engine. Back seats will fold down for more utility. Mr. Cosmai estimates Hyundai will sell 23,000 Tucsons between August and the end of 2004.

The Tucson will end a product drought for Hyundai, which had no new models this model year, yet increased sales. The Tucson will be the only new product next year, but the following year the product floodgates open. Hyundai will increase from its current six models to 10 in the next three years.

In 2005 Hyundai starts making Sonatas and Santa Fe models at its new $1 billion plant in Montgomery, Ala. A minivan follows shortly after. In 2006-2007, Hyundai will introduce a midsize sport utility a la Ford Explorer. In fact, Mr. Cosmai said Hyundai’s future growth likely will come mostly from new truck-type products.

Still, despite published reports, Hyundai has no immediate plans to sell a pickup truck, he said.

One would have to be built at its Alabama plant, which is not set up to do so yet, because of the 25 percent tariff on imported trucks.

While Mr. Cosmai’s first months on the job have been busy, his future doesn’t appear as if it will slow down.

The parent company in Korea has plans for growth, and much of that growth relies on its success in the United States.

Currently, 43 percent of the vehicle’s Hyundai makes are sold in the United States, Mr. Cosmai said.

Hyundai intends to move to among the world’s top five automakers in sales volume by the end of the decade; it now ranks seventh.

In the United States, its goal is to sell 500,000 vehicles by 2006 and 1 million by 2010. For 2004, Mr. Cosmai predicts the company will increase sales 7 percent to 430,000.

It will do so by touting its much-improved quality, boosting advertising, re-launching its flagship $25,000 XG350 sedan, focusing heavily on the California market, and adding dealers in the West and Southeast.

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