Tensions Over Plans for New U.S. Luxury Brand Cited

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DETROIT ( -- Hyundai Motor America today ended its relationship with President-CEO Bob Cosmai, effective immediately.
Departing President-CEO Bob Cosmai, who was the top American executive at the U.S. operation, will be replaced by South Korean executive Ok Suk Koh.
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Ok Suk Koh, the 52-year-old South Korean native who joined Hyundai’s U.S. operations last year as chief executive coordinator, will succeed Mr. Cosmai. The company said in a statement it wanted to “streamline the decision making process, enhance communication and position the company for future growth.”

Tensions cited
Dealers and executives close to the matter have said potential areas of disagreement between Mr. Cosmai and executives at the company’s Seoul headquarters included the aggressive month-to-month sales targets set for the U.S. and the automaker’s plans to launch a separate Hyundai-owned luxury brand here.

Asked whether the luxury brand was the cause of a clash with headquarters, Mr. Cosmai said only “everyone has talks about directional things,” and declined further comment.

Just last month, questioned about rumors that his five-year deal with Hyundai had expired, Mr. Cosmai told Advertising Age his contract had been renewed. A Hyundai spokesman refused to comment today on Mr. Cosmai’s contract.

A strong sales story
Mr. Cosmai became the top American at Hyundai here in September 2003 after he was promoted from VP-sales. During his tenure, Hyundai markedly improved its sales and positioning. It sold 455,012 vehicles in the U.S. last year, an 8.7% jump from 2004, according to Automotive News.

Meanwhile, the automaker will debut a new upmarket sedan, the Azera, with an integrated blitz that starts in February. The car will account for 20% to 25% of the automaker's 2006 ad budget.

Mr. Cosmai, 57, said: “It’s been a great run and I leave the company in much better shape than it was seven years ago.” He said he doesn’t have any specific plans, but added, “I still have life in my tank. I’m not ready to play golf every day.”

Mr. Koh has been in the U.S. for 12 years, including a stint as president-CEO of parent Hyundai Motor Co.’s Translead subsidiary in San Diego. Mr. Koh is also a senior-VP of the parent company.

Promotion for Keith Duckworth
Keith Duckworth was named Hyundai’s chief operating officer. Mr. Duckworth will remain in his post as deputy president of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing in Alabama.

Last fall, Hyundai affiliate Kia Motors America unceremoniously ended its relationship with its American president-CEO, Peter Butterfield, between courses at a dealer dinner and installed a South Korean in his place.

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