SEOUL - Hyundai Motor Co. Chairman Chung Mong-Ku has approved a major expansion of the company's research and development operation in Europe.
Following a visit to the company's research and development center in Frankfurt, the recently-appointed chairman ordered the investment in Europe to help in the development of new Hyundai and Kia models.
Although no figure or time scale has been put on the investment, Lleem Heung-Soo, director of the overseas service group, said work would start soon. 'It is our intention to make the Frankfurt facility the largest technical center in Europe to handle all Hyundai and Kia projects,' he said.
Lleem, in charge of service and parts distribution worldwide, has responsibility for Hyundai's European parts center in Belgium. This facility will also be expanded as Hyundai looks to improve supply to European dealers.
From September this year, the center, which covers western, eastern and central Europe, will start to ship parts directly to dealers rather than to distributors. Dealers in Belgium and Poland will be the first to benefit.
'This will enable us to get parts to dealers faster and generally help improve service to the consumer,' said Lleem. 'We plan to expand this service across other European markets as we increase our stock-holding capability in Belgium.'
Lleem took on his new job in January this year. He said Hyundai was committing more resources to improving customer satisfaction and retention in markets worldwide.
'There has been a definite shift in company policy over this issue since the change of management at Hyundai,' said Lleem. 'The new chairman's background is in service. He also believes it is important to keep the consumer, the dealer and the distributor happy.
'We should be doing everything we can to support distributors to help them keep their customers content. We intend to do that by helping with the necessary training - and helping them to make money.'
Hyundai has already appointed two consultancies, CTPM Ltd, based in London, and Automotive Service Consultants Inc., in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, to train dealers and distributors in how to improve customer retention.
'This area is very important to us and we are already improving our record,' said Lleem. 'In the USA there has always been a very poor perception of our products, but the latest J.D. Power survey puts us ahead of Mitsubishi, Jeep and Volkswagen.'
Hyundai also wants to improve its image to bring it into line with top automakers around the world. It has already taken the rare step of appointing a westerner to head-up its corporate public relations in Seoul.
Brought from Hyundai's UK subsidiary, Stephen Kitson is responsible for changing the public perception's of South Korean cars as cheap, poor quality vehicles.
'This is not the case any more,' said Kitson. 'The quality of the product is now extremely high and the cars are much more sophisticated. Placing greater emphasis on customer satisfaction and retention is nothing new, it's just that no one has heard the Koreans talking about it.
'But there is a very strong service culture in Korea, and it is something that is expected rather than talked about. That may not have been understood around the world.'