Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cars that (finally) make sense



In honor of Hyundai's record-breaking sales (item #6), the New York Times has posted the above commercial as their "classic ad" of the week, with the following commentary:
You can say one thing for Hyundai in the 1980s: it didn’t lack for nerve.

The South Korean automaker entered the United States market in 1986 with the Excel, a subcompact initially priced at less than $5,000, and quickly undersold its way to a new sales record for an import.

Perhaps that early success explains this week’s classic ad, which offers a side-by-side comparison (presumably tongue-in-cheek) of the Excel and the BMW 3 Series. The Bimmer driver, a classic white-collar villain — he looks as if he might be an associate of Patrick Bateman’s — practically sneers at the Excel. In response, our hero in the Hyundai merely straightens his tie: he’s ready to roll.

Just when it looks as though we might see an old-fashioned yuppie drag race, the 3 Series bows out and heads for the bank. Sure, Mister Bimmer may be depositing another trunkload of gold bullion, but you can just tell he’s miserable inside. The Excel, meanwhile, just putters sensibly along.
Of course, the Hyundai driver may be headed for the dealership to fix whatever has come loose underneath his hood.

It's interesting that a quarter century later Hyundai is still marketing itself as a big money saver, but now alongside excellent crash-test results (the picture reminds me of Inception), high quality, and reliability. Of course, old impressions die hard, and that's still why Hyundai (and Kia) were obliged to provide ten-year warranties on their cars. And even now, when impressions have changed dramatically, those warranties can be a decision-making difference: It was the super-long warranty on a Santa Fe that broke the Toyota-Chrysler stranglehold on my parents since 1978 (with the occasional Honda/Acura).

Another difference since the Reagan era: You actually can compare a Hyundai to a BMW without eliciting snickers.

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