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.
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