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“Hyundai and Kia cars are great, but the brands need work”

Editor-in-chief Steve Fowler thinks these Korean brands have made serious progress in recent years, but both are still struggling to shake their uncool brand image

Kia Hyundai opinion

It’s becoming a familiar story at the World Car Awards – a Korean brand taking the top honours. For three out of the past four years, either Hyundai or Kia has had a model named World Car of the Year, while many of the other major trophies have gone to the two big Korean car makers, too.

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I’m proud to be a World Car juror myself and, yes, my own scores ranked the Korean cars highly. For us jurors, they balance the everyday needs of car buyers well: space, comfort, efficiency, technology, affordability. And style – as proven by Hyundai’s design chief SangYup Lee taking this year’s World Car Person of the Year award.

Hyundai and Kia bosses must be pleased with the sales success that awards (including our own Car of the Year trophies) have brought. 

But as both brands seem to be moving upmarket – in price as well as product – there’s work that needs to be done that will enable the success story to continue. In my view, the badges just aren’t cool enough.

Brand image is a tricky thing and it’s something agencies and staff are paid handsomely to improve. Everyone, it seems, wants to be Tesla; there’s an element of cool that new start-up brands seem to have that established players such as Hyundai and Kia would die for.

Both Hyundai and Kia have benefitted from a world where electrification has been a leveller and availability has led customers to move out of their comfort zones and try something just a little bit different.

But when supply returns to normal and an Audi can be delivered in the same time frame as a Hyundai or Kia, will people be as likely to move away from their old favourites? That’s going to be a big challenge for Hyundai, Kia and the group’s new premium challenger, Genesis.

Maybe they need to relax, have a bit more fun with their brands and take a few risks. It could bring them a whole new level of fans, desirability and sales.

Now read our review of the Hyundai Ioniq 6...

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Editor-in-chief

Steve Fowler has been editor-in-chief of Auto Express since 2011 and is responsible for all editorial content across the website and magazine. He has previously edited What Car?, Autocar and What Hi-Fi? and has been writing about cars for the best part of 30 years. 

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