The Ford Mustang and the Case of the Up-market Hyundai
The modern-day muscle cars have been around for a while now, and that's led to plenty of comparos between the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Horsepower, 0-60 times, quarter-mile ETs, sales numbers and now even fuel efficiency have all been obsessively analyzed, and the only thing that's become clear is that each car has tens of thousands of loyal fans who aren't going to switch brands no matter what happens. On the other hand, cars like the Mustang have improved to the point where getting import buyers to switch brands has become a much more likely proposition.
In fact, the Detroit threesome seem to have even caught Hyundai off guard. I've compared the Genesis Coupe to today's muscle cars before, but now we're seeing the first move by Hyundai to react to these entries, via the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec. The car will be a new configuration of the Genesis Coupe, which is rejiggering its lineup just a bit for 2011.
The Genesis situation is an excellent example of the classic "Is the glass half full or half empty?" paradox. Sales were up 40 percent in June, which was both the best month ever for Genesis sales and the 12th consecutive month that it's seen a year-over-year sales increase. But total volumes in June were a mere 2,569 vehicles and that includes both Sedan and Coupe models. The Mustang, with sales up 17.6 percent in June and 18.5 percent through the first half of 2010, found 8,974 new customers last month.
At least part of the problem is that the Genesis Coupe finds itself in a difficult position for a Hyundai, as the muscle car/sports coupe segment is one in which it doesn't have a clear price and EPA advantage. In fact, it's just the opposite here, something the automaker hopes to rectify with the Coupe 3.8 R-Spec. This car is basically the V-6 version of the Coupe'”"3.8" refers to its 3.8-liter engine'”that's been given some nice performance-only upgrades. That is, while it now benefits from key improvements to its suspension and braking systems, Hyundai actually removed some other luxury-type content to create a more purely sporting driving experience.
Hyundai has to get some kudos here for a relatively quick response to the sudden focus on V-6-powered American sports coupes, something driven by the impressive Mustang and soon to be reinforced by the 2011 Challenger, which will get an advanced new Pentastar V-6 in the near future. The way things breakdown now performance-wise, looking at horsepower-to-weight ratios, goes like this: The Hyundai leads the way at just under 1:11, the Mustang is at 1:11.4, the Camaro comes in at 1:12.1 and the Challenger, with its old-school V-6 and rather porky curb weight, achieves 1:15.3.
What's shocking, though, is that it also delivers notably poorer fuel efficiency than either the Ford or the Chevy. The Mustang's numbers are 19 mpg highway/31 mpg city/23 mpg combined, just ahead of the Camaro's 18/29/22. The Hyundai puts up a line of 17/27/20, which isn't appreciably better than the Dodge's 17/25/20.
The Genesis is at an even bigger disadvantage in terms of MSRPs, with its base sticker price of $25,000; that's thousands more than the price tag on the Mustang or Camaro and almost $1,500 more than the Challenger.
The bottom line is that in one of the few segments in which Hyundai has not been able to put together an entry that undercuts its rivals in terms of sticker prices and over-matches them in terms of performance and EPA ratings, the automaker is struggling for acceptance. It's also worth pointing out that, through the first half of the year, Hyundai has by far the lowest average transaction prices of all the mainstream automakers.
Yet Hyundai is continuing in its efforts to head upstream with cars like the Hyundai Equus, due later this year and set to compete against the likes of the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S Class. But early specs on the new Hyundai flagship show minimal, if any, performance or efficiency advantages over its expected rivals, although it should still be priced well under those rivals.
Still, departing from its recipe of success sounds like a formula for disaster to me.