Editorial: Tuesday Bloody Hyundai

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
editorial tuesday bloody hyundai

There’s a certain raw satisfaction to be had in seeing a man go utterly, completely mad in public, particularly when there’s a plateful of free bacon in front of you and an attentive server standing behind you, ready to swap your newly emptied bacon-plate for a full one at the slightest, Sotheby’s-private-bidder-esque, wave of a hand. This happy spectacle was available to all and sundry at the media breakfast that opened the 2009 Chicago Auto Show yesterday morning, courtesy of Hyundai’s American CEO, John Krafcik.

“Let me start my short comments today with a pair of quotes from two great Americans,” Krafcik opened. “Thomas Jefferson said that a government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have . . .

“For example, it’s difficult to put a finger on exactly when China moved from a purely Communist country, to an energetic proponent of a new form of capitalism.” The statement led one colleague to wonder aloud whether that “new form” included the “energetic” harvesting of organs from members of the Falun Gong. Another one observed, “If this guy’s lucky, nobody back home cares enough to translate this speech into Korean.”

The irony that the Chinese government is strong enough to take everything that South Korea has seemed utterly lost on Hyundai’s senior American executive.

But before anybody could stop chewing their bacon long enough to ponder Krafcik’s iffy grasp of the geopolitical scene, he dropped all remaining un-dropped jaws by stating that “change” called for “a more equitable distribution of income.”

The steady susurrus of surreptitious cell-phone use and side conversations came to a crashing halt as various members of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the folks who traditionally host the Chicago morning breakfast, started nervously catching each other’s eye, wondering exactly who made the decision to invite Chairman Mao to speak at this event.

Having swiftly disposed of the American way of life in just a few opening paragraphs, Krafcik got into the real meat of his speech: a two-fisted attack on the “industry” and its “greed.”

“Turning our industry around will require some revolutionary thinking,” he said. And to prove it he went to declare that Hyundai would meet a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2015. “A bold position perhaps, but we were honestly surprised to be alone amongst all automakers in taking a position like this one. Going forward, we’d love to have some company here.”

This “bold position” was revealed, in post-speech questioning, to be anything but: Hyundai will have a “Sonata-class hybrid” in 2010. But Krafcik was quick to assure the audience that the fleet average would come from “downsizing engine packages, taking weight out of the cars, a thousand little things.”

In other words, a provider of relatively crappy little cars is going to make more crappy little cars, with smaller engines and aluminum decklids.

[It’s worth noting that this “revolutionary thinking” actually dates back to when Lee Iacocca unveiled the Plymouth Horizon “Miser,” a car which had been so ruthlessly optimized towards 50mpg on the highway that they had, apparently, left the final “y” off the nameplate.]

With this not-entirely-revolutionary disclosure, Krafcik returned to his Timberlakian mission of bringing Trotsky back by suggesting “a more inclusive form of capitalism” in which executive salaries would be limited to a certain multiplier of average pay. It was not immediately clear as to whether this form of capitalism would be exactly like that exciting new Chinese form to which he had referred earlier, but if I were a member of an obscure religious sect in America right now, I’d be counting my kidneys.

Last but not least, it was time for some bragging.

Hyundai has managed to increase both market share and sales in the past few months. Lest anyone think that this was a simple matter of newly impoverished consumers buying cheaper vehicles, Krafcik took some time to lavishly praise the “Hyundai Assurance” program.

“The Assurance Program did not require government support. But it has delivered benefits to all stakeholders, and to society . . . This is how private enterprise should work. Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson is smiling.”

And why shouldn’t he smile? After all, Hyundai is on the way to becoming an American company! “The lines between domestic and import will become increasingly blurred. We will exercise more sensitivity, more discipline, and be more inclusive, in all aspects of our business.”

Having unintentionally closed an insensitive and undisciplined speech by calling for sensitivity and discipline, Mr. Krafcik allowed the media to finish their bacon and stumble, blinking, into the light of McCormick’s million-plus-square-foot arena, wondering what the hell they’d just heard.

I reckon Mr. Krafcik chose the wrong Thomas Jefferson quote. The one that comes to my mind: “He who knows best knows how little he knows.”

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  • Don1967 Don1967 on Feb 13, 2009

    Sorry sixspeedtrick, but you send my BS meter off the scale faster than the Sham-Wow guy on TV. Exactly how many Hyundai/Kias have you driven 100,000 miles lately? Year, make, model and VIN please.

  • Ronald Kappus Ronald Kappus on Feb 14, 2009

    It is unfortunate that the author had to use such "crappy" language to make his point.

  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.
  • Stuart de Baker EVs just aren't ready for prime time for those with a single car and who take road trips. Being able to charge as soon as you arrive at a charging station, and even the chargers working on your car is a crapshoot. In the former case, you could have to wait for nearly an hour while someone else is charging.I also don't find EVs particularly fun to drive (I've driven a Tesla Model S and an Ionic 5.) I LOVE driving my '08 Civic (stick). I love the handling, the feel and responsiveness of the engine, the precise steering (the Michelin Pilot Ultra Sport tires help, but even with the snows on, the car is a joy). I have 152k on the clock, and hopefully another 25 years or so of driving (I was born early in the Eisenhower Administration and I have exceptionally healthy habits), and I'm going to try to keep the Civic for the duration.My Civic causes a less global warming emissions than some of these humongous battery operated trucks.
  • FreedMike They should throw in a Lordstown pickup with every purchase. Make it the “vapor twofer.”
  • Random1 Pretty excited about this update, I didn't see it available in mine this morning, but any day now... I think only Apple maps will be on the center display, and not Waze yet, but I assume that'll come soon enough. As to the unnecessary Tesla comment above : I'll take the build quality, the looks, and generally normal items that all cars should have over the M3 any day of the week.
  • Jonathan H. The ES production is going back to Japan so it's safe to assume its assembly building will be utilized for the new EV. Seems like a good fit for what will probably be fairly low volume compared to the Camry/Rav4 assembly lines.