Hyundai makes safety a primary selling point

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Forget volvo. Hyundai wants to be the safe car.

Hyundai Motor America will offer "safety for the masses" by providing six front and back seat "side-curtain" airbags-until a few years ago standard only on much pricier premium and luxury vehicles-as standard on all its models, said John Krafcik, VP-product development and strategic planning at Hyundai. Even the lowly Accent, Hyundai's entry-level subcompact sedan, will be equipped with six standard air bags when it arrives this fall as a 2006 model.


"Our philosophy is: Safety isn't optional," he said. Hyundai's own consumer research revealed consumers want additional safety equipment if it's available and doesn't greatly inflate the purchase price.

One of Hyundai's key goals with the move is to win the trust of more consumers. Quality and reliability coupled with safety go hand in hand with trust. "We already got the quality. If we can dial up our safety leadership we can get there faster," he said.

Hyundai has worked to improve quality since the second half of the 1990s and in fall 1998 started advertising its 10-year powertrain warranty. A year ago the brand beat Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota brand in J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study, which measures defects reported in the first 90 days of ownership.

"Side-curtain airbags were standard on more high-end vehicles like Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW," said Todd Turner, president of auto consultant CarConcepts. "The cost was higher then than now." Due to technology and availability advances, prices have come down, he said, noting that Volkswagen of America was the first mass-market automaker to offer standard side-curtain air bags.

Although VW started offering them across its entire passenger-car lineup in the 2002 model year, the automaker hasn't really touted the standard air bags in its advertising, handled by Havas` Arnold Worldwide, Boston.

American Honda Motor Co. started promoting "Safety for Everyone" with its first corporate umbrella ad blitz for safety last summer. Independent RPA, Santa Monica, handles. But Honda charges $250 extra to add front side airbags on every 2005 Civic two-door coupe except the top-of-the-line LX special edition model, according to its Web site. Honda plans to expand standard safety features on both its Honda and Acura lines by the end of calendar 2006.

Hyundai plans to get its safety message out in a big way.

Safety will be incorporated into a new corporate brand blitz, its first in several years, arriving shortly. Independent Richards Group, Dallas, handles. "Hyundai like you've never seen before," is the main theme of the ad, which will also show the automaker's first U.S. plant in Alabama. That tagline will appear in launch ads for the redone 2006-model Sonata sedan, the first car from the new plant. The ads break this month. The Sonata will also come equipped with six standard air bags.

Dan O'Brien, a Hyundai dealer in Illinois, said the safety positioning will enhance the brand. "Hyundai is trying to improve its image all the time, not live on its image."

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