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When Dave Weber arrived as Hyundai Motor America's VP-marketing in late 1998, he fretted about where to start. He knew he had a big job ahead.

The South Korean importer was still suffering the aftermath of poor quality in the early 1990s, compounded by labor problems overseas in its home market.

But Hyundai has since substantially improved its quality.

"We knew our brand was better than the perception," he says.

Hyundai has pulled off one of the auto industry's most amazing turnarounds. Amazing, too: It has done it selling small cars in a truck-crazed market. That changes later this year with its first sport utility vehicle.

Mr. Weber, 45, worked with Bates USA West, Irvine, Calif., to develop a cohesive ad strategy. The result: a Hyundai brand campaign that touted a new 10-year warranty as "America's best."

Mr. Weber convinced the dealer ad groups to run owner testimonial ads from Bates, rather than the deal-of-the-week ads they had pushed. Mr. Weber changed the brand's policy of on-and-off media, ensuring media ran year-round to keep the message out there.

Hyundai also repriced and repackaged its cars a year ago. Incentives were cut by about $1,500 per vehicle. In addition, the carmaker limited the 600-plus assembly combinations of its four models to the better-selling packages.

Under Mr. Weber, Hyundai started its first database loyalty program late last year in an attempt to keep owners in the fold. Advertising was expanded to include the Hispanic market and the Internet.

Mr. Weber says Hyundai is driving on all cylinders with the product, pricing and advertising. Unit sales through April 2000 rose by 92% to 76,446 vs. a year ago, says Automotive News. In calendar '99, Hyundai sales jumped by 82% to 164,190. Mr. Weber says sales won't rocket as much this year vs. last, probably reaching 220,000.

"The real fun part about coming into this position was I got to do a lot of stuff," says the former agency exec who worked on five different auto accounts from the agency side of the business. "In more than 20 years on the agency side, we couldn't always get clients to do what we wanted."

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