Hyundai’s uplevel Genesis brand is stirring up the market: The G70 sports sedan is raking in award after award, and this year will see a strong product offensive that includes a facelifted G90, an entirely new G80, and the brand’s first SUV models, the GV80 and the GV70.
The current lineup consists of the G70, direct competitor to the BMW 3-series with four- and six-cylinder engines; the to-be-replaced G80, a 5-series competitor which is offered on global markets with six- and eight-cylinder engines; and the G90, a traditional executive sedan that is also available as a V-6 and a V-8. Genesis has also shown several highly acclaimed concept cars, including the Essentia high-end sports car in 2018 and the compact Mint sports car in 2019.
Led by CEO Manfred Fitzgerald, Genesis leans on design and engineering teams with strong European background. The new design language of Genesis, which will be fully visible on every model launched from this year onwards, was conceived by Luc Donckerwolke of Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley fame; former BMW M GmbH executive Albert Biermann has a strong hand in chassis development.
In a wide-ranging q&a, Fitzgerald explains that the 2018 Essentia concept is alive and well and that he fights for putting the 2019 Mint concept into production; that V-8 and diesel models are a losing proposition; that BEVs are merely a transitional technology, and that he won’t create an equivalent to AMG any time soon.
Having launched in North America and Korea, Europe and China are next on the map. We expect a European launch within the next two years.
GTspirit: Let me ask you a few questions about the Mint concept. What was the thinking behind the name?
Fitzgerald: That was a team discussion. We came up with the name when we looked at the tightness and the dimensions of the car, and then we considered the color that we chose together with the design team…
GTspirit: So it was first the color and then the name?
Fitzgerald: That’s the way it always happens. The naming always follows a couple of viewings of the vehicle, seeing the posture and how it is moving and what it triggers in you. And Mint obviously has more than one meaning. It can refer to the color, it can refer to a condition and many other things. But it has no larger significance as to the naming strategy of the brand, going forward.
GTspirit: It was a similar last-minute decision for Essentia, right?
Fitzgerald: Yes, although that was actually a pretty difficult one. We came with a couple of names that we tested, there were a couple of legal things to consider, and some names could be misunderstood – especially these days where not everybody is inclined to look at things the way you intended them to. It’s always about striking a balance of getting the right message across but not stepping on anybody’s toes.
GTspirit: Are you doing anything with Essentia right now or has it already been relegated to the shrine of fantastic but ultimately irrelevant concept cars?
Fitzgerald: That is exactly what we don’t want to happen. There are so many beautiful concept cars that have a very short lifespan; they are shown and then never seen again. We are trying not to follow that road. The short answer about the Essentia is: We are still working on it and it is still alive.
GTspirit: But it’s not a series production project yet?
Fitzgerald: It is not yet finalized yet but we are still working on it because it shall be an electric vehicle.
GTspirit: Possibly fueled by hydrogen?
Fitzgerald: The Essentia can have different means of electrification and that is something that we are currently debating.
GTspirit: Once you have the Essentia figured out, does the Mint have a chance at series production?
Fitzgerald: I certainly hope so and we are currently reviewing the reactions to the launch. Our takeaway is that first, it was clearly a surprise: Most people were clearly expecting something else. And second: The Mint has the potential to redefine the segment. This kind of vehicle represents a white spot in which no one has really anything to offer, and us claiming and taking ownership is sending the right message for our decision making process. I am one who will fight the very end for this car to be exactly that – and actually come to the streets.
GTspirit: Is the Mint based on a given platform? It is sized like the Veloster, but obviously wider.
Fitzgerald: The Mint is not based on an existing platform. Once we are ready for the car, there will be technical discussions. The initial test was the reaction of the people out there, to see whether it is something that resonates with them and that they can relate to. And I think we have already found that answer.
GTspirit: Going back to hydrogen: Given that Hyundai is one of the leaders here, will we see anything from Genesis beyond perhaps the Essentia?
Fitzgerald: I think the mothership is the global leader in this technology and in fact, I believe the battery-electric vehicle is just a transitional technology. I see a lot of potential in telling the hydrogen story in the right way and as soon as people really see it they will recognize the upsides and all the benefits, and that will kill a lot of pain points of what they are associating right now with electrification.
GTspirit: I found it striking that you announced two locations in New York. Why not combine them?
Fitzgerald: Because each store has a different purpose. The Genesis brand house will be our cultural hub where we will display our product and brand. But there will be more than that. You will hopefully find an eclectic crowd of people there; we will try to establish something fascinating that will surprise you. On the other hand, in the Hudson Yards center, in the shopping mall, we are truly focused on getting in contact with a lot of customers. We have the right audience there and will be seen in the right context.
GTspirit: Is New York a test case for other locations?
Fitzgerald: We will always aim to understand the DNA of each location. And so what we do in New York’s Meatpacking district will be different from what we’ll do in Los Angeles. As far as Europe goes, one of the fascinating cities would be London because it is very diverse, but I would love to have many locations, not just one.
GTspirit: Let’s talk about product. The new G90 is out in Korea already. Is it coming to the US? And what about the next G80?
Fitzgerald: The G90 is a tremendous success in the domestic market and we already had to adjust the production volumes. The brand is on a roll. And with the next-generation G80, you will see the next evolution of our design language.
GTspirit: What about your SUV models GV80 and GV70?
Fitzgerald: The GV80 will be shown before the end of the year and the GV70 will then be launched within one year.
GTspirit: The current G80 is offered with the Tau V-8. Does that engine have a future?
Fitzgerald: We really have to pay close attention to markets and legislation and hedge our bets. Don’t expect another evolution of the V-8. The G80 range will be topped off by the V-6.
GTspirit: In Korea, you still offer a diesel…
Fitzgerald: … with a declining share. The discussion about diesel was very emotional and there is no way to turn back the wheel of time. It will become extremely difficult to sell the diesel out there and that is based on perception, not on fact. Again, you have to hedge your bets. The diesel is something that I don’t believe we will spend time on and devote our resources to.
GTspirit: Uncharacteristically for a luxury brand, you are offering the G70 with a manual gearbox.
Fitzgerald: Yes, and it has definitely helped the brand. There are still people out there who want to connect with the machine and product, there are different driving mentalities and I do believe that we have the obligation to deliver exciting products, products where people feel there is something going. I am more than happy with our decision to do the manual.
GTspirit: Are you looking at a performance brand for Genesis – like Mercedes-AMG or BMW M GmbH?
Fitzgerald: No. I don’t believe that this would be the right move at this time. The ones you referred to have a different history, and today it’s debatable whether they are still what they used to be. But mainly I don’t think we are in a position to discuss this because we are still setting the foundation to create the brand. We are only three years in the race so far. Our first obligation is to set up a good base from where we can operate. Let’s not get fancy before we have laid out the foundation.
GTspirit: Why, in general, should a premium customer choose a Genesis? And what do you take away from the disappointing performance of other Asian luxury brands, especially in Europe?
Fitzgerald: If you buy a Genesis, I believe it will be the best product that you can get, and this conviction is due to my belief in the competence of our design teams, which are absolutely stellar. We also have a fantastic engineering team and capabilities, so on the product side I think we are very safe, that is not my concern. But I don’t believe you can be very successful just with a good product; you also need a good brand. And I don’t think that in Europe, the others took good care of that second component. We need to understand culture and what resonates with customers. Brand will be our main challenge.
GTspirit: Genesis has a high degree of independence within the Hyundai group. What is the driver for this unique approach?
Fitzgerald: I think that this level of independence is a prerequisite to be successful in the premium segment. I have been fighting for it from the beginning. When we were separated, we created our own division, our own setup and org chart which is totally different from what you see on the parent company side. For us, Genesis is more about marketing. The whole organisation is steered that way, so our product planning is carried out to marketing considerations, and aftersales are integrated into marketing as well.
GTspirit: Will you create new distribution channels?
Fitzgerald: Here, you have to look at different markets. In the US, the franchise laws prohibit us from selling directly. In the EU, however, we will go direct, we won’t have any dealers and the same will happen in China.