Lineup Now Secure, Crossover King Departs Hyundai

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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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.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.
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