Good times keep rolling
Hyundai's marketing director Stanley Anderson loves to tell a good story.
And one of his favourites - and one I'm sure he has related many times from bar rooms to boardrooms - is about a headline that appeared in the Sunday Times in late 1999 when Hyundai hit turbulent waters.
Then CEO Billy Rautenbach was on the run, with SARS and the SAPS looking into the small matter of R60-million in unpaid taxes, the company was effectively bankrupt and those who had brought cars were left with the headache of having no access to spares.
"No one in their right mind will buy a Hyundai" screamed the headline, Anderson says with a chuckle.
He can afford to smile now after those dark early days, as the company is on a high after recently winning the coveted 2012 Car of the Year title with the much-vaunted Elantra 1.8 GLS.
It was a vehicle many in the industry predicted would win and thankfully there was no repeat of the confusion that followed last year's announcement when the BMW 530d and Volkswagen Polo 1.6 TDi tied for first place.
A new method of evaluating cars is in place and one that Anderson is in favour of.
"There is more transparency to voting. Members of the jury have to say why they scored the way they did."
Tales of after-parties at the awards are legendary. It appears Anderson and his dedicated team savoured the moment after being unlucky to miss out the year before with the ix35.
"Let's just say I'm glad we didn't do this interview the day after the awards," he quickly says, with that naughty laugh not far behind.
And it's not just the local jury of journalists that gave the vehicle their seal of approval.
Car of the Year titles have been chalked up in North America, Canada and New Zealand.
The morning after the local award ceremony, head office in Seoul sent out a memo to the 43 distributors throughout Africa as well as the hundreds scattered around the world congratulating them on their achievement.
He points out that Africa is a very important market for the Asian brand, with Angola in particular showing substantial growth year-on-year.
In fact, more than 150000 vehicles were sold on the continent last year alone.
Anderson is also full of praise for fellow Korean motor manufacturer Kia, which was a runner-up in this year's COTY awards with the Picanto.
"The fact the Picanto came second confirms just how far Korean products have come. It is a great achievement for both brands."
While the car market has bounced back quite nicely following the meltdown of 2009, the year has started off slightly sluggish when compared to the same period last year.
"There is a definite slowdown in growth," he says. "We are still looking at 5-10% in growth but the commercial side of the business looks like it could be down by 15%."
The significance of the last part of this statement is that the sales of commercial vehicles is an accurate reflection of a country's economy and it is a segment that is driven by economic activity. Over the last three to four years, Hyundai has covered the majority of segments with its wide range of vehicles, but the introduction of the Veloster is likely to be the highlight for the company this year.
Also expect facelifts for the i10 and i20, while a completely new-look Santa Fe is headed our way early next year.
It's not a significant onslaught of new vehicles but it ties in with the Korean way of doing business.
"Last year, Hyundai produced four million vehicles," he explains. "This year it will only be an extra 200000.
"What they say is they want to keep control of quality. Rather less sales but maintain high standards."
This is in stark contrast to some Chinese manufacturers who are solely numbers-driven, and unfortunately cut corners when it comes to quality and safety and a lower bottom line price.
Although he wouldn't be drawn on the tolling saga that is playing itself out in Gauteng at the moment, Anderson did raise the issue of taxes being paid for CO2 emissions.
"Where has all that money gone," he queries. "Where is it being used and what are the returns on that money paid across?"
It was once remarked by the esteemed Econometrix director Tony Twine that the motor industry "was not one for sissies".
Anything from tsunamis to earthquakes, union strikes to interest rates can make the difference between making a healthy profit and asking the government for a bailout.
But there is just one thing that can keep Anderson from a good nights sleep - exchange rates.
"We are still in a good place in the market. Just look at Europe, with Italy being the latest to feel the pressure.
"But we are regarded as an emerging market so are influenced by outside factors. Problems in North Africa can affect us.
"Yet the single biggest driver in the motor industry is the exchange rate. Those can give you sleepless nights."
Anderson stresses the importance Koreans place on their work ethic. They work incredibly long hours and their work is their passion.
Here at their head office in Bedfordview, things are a little more relaxed.
"I tell the technicians its the salesman who sells the first car, but you sell the second and third vehicles.
"People must just have a passion for the brand and pride in their work.
"It is quite simple to keep the customer happy - don't have comebacks and they will return time and again."
It is a work ethic that many other companies could learn from.