Why Car Makers Must Innovate Beyond the Dashboard

European and American car brands have always enjoyed a reputation for quality, style and reliability. While these attributes have done well for brand reputations and bottom lines, they’re no longer exclusive to vehicles that originate from certain geographies.

Asian carmakers have stepped into the arena to compete with manufacturers on fronts traditionally reserved for brands the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and even exotic car makers like Ferrari. Last year’s biennial Seoul Motor Show saw the unveiling of some of Asia’s most ambitious luxury, exotic and innovative vehicles to date.

Kia’s unveiling of its fastback Sedan, the Stinger, was a first for any Asian carmaker and is earmarked to compete with luxury premium sports car names like Ferrari and Maserati. Other highlights at the show revealed a plethora of electric and hybrid models from Hyundai, Nissan and Honda.

Yet, innovation in the cockpit and making a play for a piece of the luxury and sports car markets are but symptoms of larger factors involving the rise of Asian car brands. Strong builds, competitive pricing and customer-centric after-sales journeys are the foundations behind the increasing popularity of brands that originate from the east.

Hyundai: The Little Car Company That Could

A closer look under the hood of the Hyundai Motor Company reveals a strong focus on the transformation of internal workings to better align with the expectations of a changing market. The company is fast becoming a case study for other manufacturers in successfully transforming processes, people and technologies to meet the needs of a diverse global market.

An example of this is the announcement that its parts and services division would strengthen global communication and interactions by holding monthly video conferences between 80 overseas branches and key personnel. This includes around 30 HQ staff members and relevant director-level heads to improve turnaround times on problems raised by staff and customers.

Of nearly 60 items on the agenda raised at pilot meetings, 25 were resolved in under one month through immediate corrective actions, while items such as improvements of main systems were placed under continuous management and review. According to Hyundai’s Director of After Sales, “The new direct communication channel with overseas branches, as well as improvement of infrastructure, is part of our efforts to secure perfect after-sales service competitiveness.”

The company’s focus on perfecting its after-sales experience is a core part of its success in markets traditionally dominated by domestic brands. Countries without domestic offerings have shown even stronger growth for the manufacturer as customer loyalties and value perception tend to shift along the same lines.

Innovation from the Boardroom to the Showroom

Last year also saw the manufacturer walk away with the coveted Manufacturer Innovation accolade at the 2017 Workshop Power Awards in the UK. The Hyundai Workshop Automation System is a fully embedded, digital system that streamlines workshop processes such as online bookings, repairs and after-sales customisations for customers.

The system also allows for the automation of quality checks, reduces repeat repairs, enables customer identification based on number plates and even flags training requirements for its service staff. This is bolstered by an instant customer feedback loop and ongoing post-visit communications which continually informs after sales on how to improve the customer journey.

“We know from talking to our readers who use it, that the time it saves them is invaluable, and means that they can focus on fixing vehicles. While this category was hotly contested, it was clear that the innovative nature of this system was far superior to anything else in contention.” ~ Rebecca Chaplin, Editor of Workshop Magazine

The innovative thinking of this nature undoubtedly plays a big factor in Hyundai’s rise. The company has come a long way since the days of the humble Excel released in the USA back in 1986. The butt of many jokes involving its unreliability, poor quality and unpleasing aesthetics, the Excel gave Hyundai and Korean manufacturers at large a reputation for being small fish in a very big pond.

Made In Korea; Loved All Over the World

Fast-forward 30 years on and the same pond seems to be experiencing somewhat of a power shift. To date, Hyundai has eight manufacturing bases and seven design & technical centres worldwide. It sold 5 million vehicles globally in 2016 and has announced its target of 8 million units for 2018 and is also a top 10 contender for vehicle sales in practically every market in which it competes. Locally, Hyundai has also been warmly received by the South African consumer, with the brand now claiming the fifth position amongst the most popular vehicles.

Carmakers such as Hyundai are fast closing the lead on incumbents that are content to snooze behind the wheel. As the warning on the mirror says, “Objects in your rearview could be closer than what they appear.” Taking a lesson from the very brand that threatens their dominance might just help to get a safer distance between themselves and a veritable Asian invasion.

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