Mr. Wilhite, based in Japan, resigned his position effective immediately, a Nissan spokesman confirmed.
Hyundai Motor said in a release that Mr. Wilhite will take over as COO Aug. 16 and be responsible for strategic development, sales, marketing, communications, parts and service. The post has been vacant since Bob Cosmai resigned in January.
President-CEO Ok Suk Koh said in a prepared statement: "Steve's passion for the automotive business was clear from the moment I met him, and all of us at Hyundai are excited that he will be leading our sales, marketing and other operating efforts."
Mr. Wilhite said he is "thrilled with the opportunity to return to Southern California and help lead the continued development and growing success of Hyundai."
Mr. Wilhite is a highly regarded marketer, having joined the ranks of the elite during his nine years at Volkswagen of America, where he was instrumental in its turnaround in the mid- to late 1990s. He left VW in early 1999 for a short tenure with Apple before joining Nissan North America in 2001 as VP-marketing.