The Philippines as a nation is known to have a deep fondness for Japanese automobiles that have been released in the local market for decades. Most garages since the 1970s may have been home to one of those Japanese brands. In 2001, South Korean automaker, Hyundai, entered the Philippine market, and has since become one of the top brands in the country. The rise of Hyundai as the third-ranking automaker in the Philippines has been an incredible journey for the brand.
Born into a poor family of farmers, Chung Ju-yung was able to raise enough capital to start a construction business in 1947. Through the business, Chung was able to invest and he eventually founded Hyundai Motor Company (HMC). Hyundai – one year after its establishment – released the Cortina, in cooperation with Ford in 1968. The proceeding years were active ones for the Korean automaker as it designed and built cars through partnerships with other manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi. Hyundai eventually started shipping overseas in 1975 with the Pony model.
In 2001, HMC of South Korea appointed Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (HARI) as the official distributor of Hyundai vehicles in the Philippines.
Hyundai’s arrival in 2001 was not always celebrated in the local scene. By then, Japanese automakers were already strongholds in the market.
HARI came from humble beginnings with four dealerships and carried just one product line – the Starex. Although the Starex was a hit in the market almost since it was released, other models weren’t as popular to most people once they were out on sale.
In spite of the initial reception, it did not take long for the Korean brand to be seen in a more positive light among Filipinos. Young teenagers into cars in the mid to late 2000s may remember their elders talking about how the aesthetics of Hyundai improved with more flowing or fluidic lines, and how some of the models resemble European cars at the time. Apparently, there really was a link between the design renaissance and its European similarities, as HMC hired a number of designers who formerly worked with companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Employed by BMW for 32 years and the former chief engineer of the revered M Performance division, Albert Biermann was responsible for the development of the BMW F80 M3 and F10 M5 during his stint with the German brand. Since 2015, Biermann has worked for Hyundai Motor Company and leads the development of high-performance Hyundai and Kia models. The Kia Stinger GT and Hyundai i30 N, for instance, are two cars he has lead to fruition. They may not be available in the local market, but it speaks volumes of the dedication and work Hyundai has shown in the past decade.
One of the most recognizable names associated to the design shift is Thomas Bürkle. While studying Industrial Design, Bürkle began with Mercedes-Benz, before working for Toyota, then with BMW in 2000. He left BMW for Hyundai in 2005, and oversaw various Hyundai designs, including the i10, first-generation i30, and ix35 – locally known as the second-generation Tucson and onwards. The ix35 or Tucson was a huge hit when it was launched, as an influx of the model was instantly witnessed on the streets.
One of the cars that gained initial success is the second-generation Santa Fe. The SUV rivaled its Japanese counterparts in the Philippines, which also just entered the arena a few years prior, when it was released in 2007. Since then, the Santa Fe has garnered multiple awards across different stages and years.
The fifth-generation Hyundai Elantra, launched in 2010, is another car that exemplified the revamped and fluidic designs by HMC. Many may recall the sudden invasion of the model when it first went on-sale almost a decade ago. The Elantra 1.8 GLS, in fact, was crowned Compact of the Year at the 8th Annual C! Awards back in 2012. It was able to challenge its 2.0L rivals with its 6-speed transmission, while still being the cheapest among competition at the time.
Even the subcompacts of Hyundai embodied the upgrades in design quality. The Accent was a welcome addition that was not a Japanese subcompact. On sale starting 2011, the second-generation Accent won the Subcompact of the Year Award in the 2013 C! Awards. To this day, the model is one of the more prevalent subcompacts on the road.
It’s been one heck of a climb since HARI’s appointment by Hyundai as the official distributor in the Philippines 18 years ago. Currently, HARI has 36 dealerships and a workforce of 2,000. In 2010, Hyundai surpassed a number of Japanese manufacturers when it became the 3rd top-ranking automotive brand in the Philippines, which it still holds to this day. And since 2005, HARI has garnered multiple awards in the industry.
Hyundai did not have to design exceptional cars on their own to achieve the worldwide success they attained in the past decade or two. The company just needed to employ the right designers and engineers who have gained years of experience and success in their respective fields, and the results of developments they have done are evident even in the local scene.