The origin of the world is laid out in the biblical Book of Genesis. And so it unfolds with the other Genesis — South Korea’s upstart luxury brand.
Genesis has its own book of Genesis — literally.
Pull open the satiny, copper-toned hardcover of the oversize Genesis: Volume One, and leaf through its glossy, heavyweight pages. Chapter and verse illuminate the origins and philosophy of the world’s newest luxury contender with inspirational meditations and artsy photos.
Global brand chief Manfred Fitzgerald personally penned the 67-page tome to motivate his staff and dealers. Part creation myth, part instruction manual, the text tackles such big questions as: What is Genesis? What is luxury? Who are our customers?
These are hardly academic concerns. Genesis faces a market challenge of biblical proportions.
The newly christened wannabe must differentiate itself from the mass-market Hyundai brand it was cleaved from in late 2015. And it must convince status-conscious buyers in an entrenched global luxury market that “made in Korea” has premium panache.
It won’t be easy for a brand with next-to-no heritage to tackle the tradition of German stalwarts Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, let alone Japan’s trio of Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.
“We want to be a globally respected brand,” Fitzgerald said during a tour of Hyundai Motor Group’s global r&d center here. His glossy brand book “should open up your mind to what we’re looking for.”
Genesis: Volume One encapsulates three key traits: “being audacious, progressive, distinctly Korean.” Cultivating that third quality may prove the most delicate.
To get going, Genesis is embracing its home market. And that is a dramatic change from the path pioneered by Japan’s luxury rivals. Lexus, Infiniti and Acura all launched by largely ignoring their home market to focus primarily on the United States, even though Japan remains the world’s third-largest in sales volume. Infiniti and Acura are not sold in Japan, while Lexus has struggled for success there years after its initial U.S. launch.
Fitzgerald is adamant that that was a strategic mistake for the Japanese.
“Some of those brands don’t even have a homegrown success in their own country,” he said. “Our origin is here in Korea. You first have to make it in your homeland.”
Leveraging the domestic market will have some big advantages for Genesis. South Korea gives the brand a built-in head start in volume. The country’s auto market is the world’s 11th biggest overall and No. 10 for luxury sales.
And while South Korea opened years ago to imports, Korean consumers remain remarkably loyal to domestic favorite sons Hyundai and Kia.
“The Genesis brand is too new to be competitive in the U.S. and other regions, and hence the local market will act as a ‘feeder’ market of sorts,” said Park Sangwon, an auto analyst with Heungkuk Securities in Seoul. “Genesis is eating into the import car category, somewhat successfully.”
Indeed, an excited buzz surrounds the birth of a homegrown luxury brand.
Of the 150,000 Genesis vehicles sold globally since the brand’s launch, three-quarters sold at home. Government, corporate and limousine fleets are snapping up Genesis G90 and G80 sedans.
Fitzgerald picked Seoul, over an international auto show, as the debut venue for the new G70 to tap the zeal. Genesis unveiled the sport sedan Sept. 15 at an open-air evening concert swarmed by thousands of fans in a carnival-like celebration of the country’s upscale ambitions. American singer Gwen Stefani headlined the show, giving plenty of shoutouts to its sponsor.
“We are very proud of it,” Lee Jeungsub, a 38-year-old engineer, said of Genesis after testing the driver’s seat of a G70 on display at an upscale Seoul shopping mall. “We didn’t have this kind of car five or 10 years ago. Their cars are improving much faster than we expected.”
Notions of luxury are still immature in this young market, Fitzgerald warns. There is little appreciation for vintage cars, for instance, and tastes are often driven by a hive-mind mentality.
“We have to explain what luxury means and what luxury stands for,” he said. “Luxury has a very short history in Korea. … Judgment still takes place by looking at what the others are doing.”
Anchoring a brand in a national identity is especially key for a luxury marque, Fitzgerald said.
South Korea is largely absent from the minds of overseas buyers, however. That is a big weakness compared with the aura surrounding Germany’s premium makes.
But Fitzgerald says it’s also an opportunity to mold the image as Genesis wishes.
“We have no baggage,” he said. “It’s up to us to define the new direction.”
That’s where Fitzgerald’s brand book comes in.
Its pages wax with exhortations about Korea’s exacting expectations for quality, the culture’s veneration of service and the country’s balance of tradition with modernity.
The “beauty of emptiness,” Fitzgerald says poetically, epitomizes the Korean national aesthetic.
Among his book’s thought-provoking kernels:
• “Contrast is a foundation of creativity.”
• “The common good is more important than the individual’s.”
• “A fulfilled life is a life in harmony, tradition and modernity, nature and technology.”
It might be a mystical guide to selling cars. But Genesis must exude an unabashed Korean-ness, the American branding guru insists.
But don’t be surprised if parts of the message get lost in translation.
“It’s the most complicated portion of our DNA to describe,” U.S. Genesis Brand Manager Erwin Raphael said of the Korean connection. “But it’s probably the one that can be the most powerful.”
Korean culture, Raphael said, is about the juxtaposition of the old and new.
“When you look in the car, what you’ll see is harmony of design,” Raphael said. “It’s about taking that part of the culture and bringing it to life in the cars.”
But doesn’t it seem odd that foreign executives should parachute into the driver’s seat of Korea’s first luxury brand and proceed to school Korean counterparts on the virtues of their culture?
Not at all, says Fitzgerald, who landed in the country last year and barely speaks the language.
Fitzgerald and his right-hand man, Genesis global design boss Luc Donckerwolke, who is from Belgium, say they bring a fresh eye and a foreign twist to the question of building the brand.
Said Fitzgerald, “We can see the hidden gems.”
Fuente: Automotive News