The ring of confidence

  01 August 2011

Car companies that are on a roll give off an air of confidence. I can remember going to a technical briefing at Ford where they let engineers talk openly to the press for the first time. It was about the soon-to-be launched Ford Focus (replacing a rather limp Ford Escort) and you could just feel the buzz of excitement around the room.

Rather bizarrely, I felt the same thing at the opening of the Hyundai Training Academy in High Wycombe this week. Okay, you could argue that a visit to a hi-tech engineering facility centre is rather more exciting than walking round a refurbished office building, but the principle remains the same.

Investing around £300,000 in a national training centre in these tough times is a statement of faith and a clear signal to the industry that Hyundai is serious about its ambition: selling more than 65,000 units in the UK this year.

UK managing director, Tony Whitehorn, says he wants his dealership staff to “think and feel” Hyundai when they come to the training centre and using anonymous regional venues was just not achieving that. This is all about consistency of message – and confidence, of course.

The brand is talking about improving its service levels to its customers, asking for further investment in retail premises and gearing up for the launch of products such as i40 Wagon and Velostar – cars that will sell at list prices close to £25k.

But it is also having to fight its corner over representation as so-called ‘bigger’ brands object to multi-franchising with the Korean upstart after 2013. Protection under pan-European law is disappearing and I hear discussions on an industry Code of Conduct have stalled.

Let’s hope this is just a symptom of Brussels in August and not a lack of will power on the part of the European Commission. Caving in to the carmakers could stifle confidence and, ultimately, reduce choice for the customer.

Rupert Saunders

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