John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America since 2008, has overseen fantastic growth, and now he has a different challenge: Keep the pot boiling at a time when he can't count on the spotlight and dealer enthusiasm that come with monthly sales records.
That's because Hyundai's rocket ride up the U.S. sales chart is over -- because it can't make cars any faster.
Hyundai is hitting full production capacity in South Korea, where most models sold in the U.S are made, and is adding a third shift this month at its Montgomery, Ala., plant that builds its two highest-volume U.S. models, Sonata and Elantra.
Much of the momentum Krafcik inherited was his own doing. Before he became CEO, Krafcik was vice president of product development and strategic planning. When he took that job in 2004, Hyundai's share of U.S. new vehicle sales was 2.5%, according to Autodata.
Now, it's 5% and Hyundai is the seventh-biggest car company in the U.S., ranked by sales, behind the Detroit Three and Japan's top trio, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
Krafcik is sure the production limits will give his rivals advantages, especially in the midsize sedan segment, where seemingly every brand has a new model or soon will.
"Competitors will take some demand away" from the Hyundai Sonata, but he professes himself "comfortable" with the sales he expects to get. And like all successful sales folk, he sees an opportunity in a limited supply: "I'd rather be a little bit short on production and long on quality," he says.
Rushing to crank out ever more vehicles can cause quality shortcuts, Toyota Motor CEO Akio Toyoda explained in 2010 to a U.S. congressional committee probing the company's sudden acceleration complaints, "I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick," he testified, and it may have "confused" the company about its priorities.
In a session with USA TODAY reporters and editors, Krafcik offered a peek at Hyundai's future beyond the explosive sales gains. He has some contrary notions that'll keep Hyundai a very interesting company to watch.
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