Lineup Now Secure, Crossover King Departs Hyundai

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
lineup now secure crossover king departs hyundai

Perhaps realizing that his job was done, Michael O’Brien, Hyundai Motor America’s vice president for product, announced his departure from the automaker late Friday.

O’Brien leaves the company he served for nearly 20 years on February 3rd, heading off to pursue “other interests,” the grateful automaker said in a statement. Put in charge of the Korean brand’s product direction, O’Brien played a major role in turning around a flagging sales situation with a surge of crossovers big and small.

“I would like to thank Mike for his tremendous contributions to Hyundai’s success. It’s impossible to quantify the impact he made in getting our business and product portfolio to where it is today,” HMA Chief Operating Officer Brian Smith said in a statement. “We all wish Mike clear skies and tailwinds on the next leg of his career journey.”

O’Brien joined the automaker in 1987, leaving for a stint at Toyota in 1996. He was back in 2010, however, tasked with guiding the brand’s American lineup. The post-recession years were heady times for Hyundai; sales of revamped passenger cars soared, but good times eventually gave way to a sales crisis born of a product mix that didn’t align with rapidly evolving consumer tastes.

Crossovers were king, and Hyundai didn’t have enough of them. It had three: the compact Tucson, midsize-ish Santa Fe Sport, and range-topping Santa Fe. The dramatic sales downturn that began after 2016 eventually led to the ouster of Hyundai’s U.S. CEO and a hastily crafted plan to flood the market with the things buyers wanted.

That plan has now come to fruition. With O’Brien’s help, Hyundai developed a full stable of CUVs spanning the sub-subcompact to midsize segments. The smallest of the bunch, the Venue, just landed, while the newly enlarged Santa Fe and top-flight Palisade replaced the aging Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe last year, joining the equally new subcompact Kona. A restyled Tucson drops later this year.

The product surge had the desired effect. Volume grew 3 percent in 2019, pushing Hyundai’s U.S. market share back above 4 percent.

[Images: Hyundai]

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  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Jan 27, 2020

    Twenty years at Hyundai in the US? That's gotta be some kinda record. US sales executives (top execs, anyway) typically don't last more than a year or two.

  • Indi500fan Indi500fan on Jan 27, 2020

    Those big Kia and Hyundai SUVs are all over the midwest. I've even heard rumors of the dreaded "ADM" being applied. So whoever master minded these should get a nice bonus.

    • Gtem Gtem on Jan 27, 2020

      They truly are impressive. Range Rover esque proportions and interiors that punch well above their weight, a home run for the Koreans.

  • ToolGuy I object to the high beltline on this vehicle.(Since I have invested exactly zero dollars over my lifetime in Chrysler - the marque not the company - vehicles, I am very emotionally invested in this position, and will be terribly butt-hurt if anyone disagrees. But then again, since other companies were playing follow-the-leader with Chrysler - the company - "Styling" at this point in history, this vehicle is partially directly responsible for the decline of the sedan, so perhaps I do care a little too much. In fact, up yours Putin, OPEC and everyone no longer producing a useable sedan. Thanks for listening - be sure to dislike, unsubscribe and not share.)
  • MaintenanceCosts The pictured first-gen 300C SRT8, to me, is the best-looking LX car of all time. (It's not the best, period - the interior is terrible and the 5-speed bad.) It's perhaps the most menacing car of the 21st century, with the perfect stance, and the wheels are flat-out gorgeous.There's a corporate rental house near me that gets rented out to bands a lot. The property manager looks like an ex-metal roadie and drives one of these cars in silver, and it's a perfect fit for his image..
  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are so many OEM-specific ones out there nowadays (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").