The main driving force behind South Korea’s rise to glory as an automotive superpower is Hyundai Motor Company. In a relatively short period (from the company’s founding in 1967 to present), the automaker has gone from making poorly-built, cheap cars to releasing very competitive models that cover almost all segments on the global stage.
Together with its subsidiary Kia Motors, Hyundai Motor Company has constantly ranked in the top five world’s largest automakers in recent years. It even has a luxury division nowadays, called Genesis, that aims to compete with Lexus and the German trio of premium carmakers.
Hyundai’s first car came in 1968, but it was a Ford Cortina, built under license from the U.S. automaker. Seven years later, thanks to the contribution of many British car engineers Hyundai had hired, the first true Hyundai automobile arrived — the Pony. The small, rear-wheel drive car designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and powered by a Mitsubishi powertrain became South Korea’s first mass-produced automobile.
1985 is another important year for Hyundai: the automaker celebrated the manufacturing of its one millionth vehicle and launched the successor to the Pony successor, the Excel — another model designed by Giugiaro. The popular Excel marked Hyundai’s entry into the U.S. market and accelerated the brand’s development.
By 1988, the company began building models with its own technology, starting with the midsize Sonata. In 1990, Hyundai manufactured its four millionth vehicle, and the following year laid the foundations for technological independence by developing its first proprietary gasoline engine (the four-cylinder Alpha) and its own transmission.
The Korean automaker continued its rapid ascent through the 1990s and 2000s and is now present in all important car markets of the world. It’s particularly successful in well-developed regions like North America and Europe, but it has a strong presence in developing countries too, such as India, Russia and more. Hyundai sells its cars in more than 190 countries through some 5,000 dealerships.
As of 2017, Hyundai has manufacturing operations in North America, India, the Czech Republic, Russia, China, and Turkey, as well as research and development centers in Europe, Asia, and North America.
The most popular Hyundai models worldwide include the Accent, Elantra, and Sonata sedans, as well as the Tucson and Santa Fe SUVs. In Europe, the i20 and i30 hatchbacks are particularly successful. In recent years, Hyundai has invested in eco-friendly technologies, launching hybrid and plug-in hybrid version for the Sonata, as well as the Ioniq global family of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric vehicles.