Hyundai, based in Fountain Valley, Calif., confirmed the resignation this morning. "Steve has made many contributions during his time at Hyundai Motor America. We wish him the best in his future endeavors," said Hyundai Motor America President-CEO Owen Koh.
Ad Age reported this week that discussion has been swirling about Mr. Wilhite's imminent departure.
Rehearsing his speech
Mr. Wilhite's resignation comes just days before Hyundai's annual national dealer meeting Sept. 27 in San Diego. On Sept. 21, when queried about this week's Ad Age story, a Hyundai spokesman said he had no information regarding Mr. Wilhite's departure and that the executive had been rehearsing his speech for the dealer meeting.
Mr. Wilhite's tenure at Hyundai has been rocky; speculation about his leaving has been buzzing on the grapevine for months. Early this year, Mr. Wilhite disbanded Hyundai's five regional dealer ad groups, which spent some $300 million annually. He allowed dealers to voluntarily form smaller ad groups and hire whatever ad agency they wanted.
Hyundai reported flat sales through August 2007 of 325,193 vehicles, which forced the automaker to reduce its original 2007 U.S. sales projection from 550,000 vehicles by 40,000 units.
The automaker said a replacement for Mr. Wilhite has not yet been named.