By Doron Levin
FORTUNE -- Much grousing and cheering has already broken out on social media over the hexagonal grille on the 2015 Genesis, the new second-generation luxury sedan from Hyundai Motor.
Some love the car's new exterior design, some are derisive -- everyone who takes more than a casual interest in cars will notice it.
Hyundai's luxury models are slowly but surely elbowing their way into the consciousness of buyers and enthusiasts. The South Korean car company brought the first-generation Genesis to the U.S. in 2008, selling a small, respectable number of the rear-wheel-drive, midsize luxury sedans.
The latest model, built on an all-new architecture, comes with improved versions of the 3.8-liter V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8 engines. Optional equipment includes a slew of high-tech safety and convenience features, such as adaptive cruise control, which maintains speed while safeguarding that the Genesis doesn't collide with a slower-moving car.
In its first year on the market, Genesis sold fewer than 14,000 units, a number that increased to nearly 20,000 in 2013. That's a drop in the bucket in relation to the 250,000 midsize luxury sedans such as the Mercedes E Class, Audi A6, and Lexus ES 350 (TM) sold in the U.S. annually.
Hyundai decided against setting up an entire luxury franchise with its own dealer network. That saved the company time and investment capital, but put it at somewhat of a disadvantage to networks like Lexus, which attract customers who appreciate the extra pampering they get.
"With the latest Genesis matching the [BMW] 5 Series and E-Class on feature content, technology and performance, while substantially undercutting them on price, Hyundai's long-term plan has merit," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kbb.com and Kelley Blue Book.
As a competitive luxury sedan, Brauer said, Genesis "ticks every box," except brand recognition. As a result, the model is sold at a great value compared to its German and Japanese competitors. Hyundai says the $42,950 Genesis with a 3.8-liter engine sells for $11,740 less than the comparable Lexus GS350 and $17,605 less than the comparable Mercedes E350.
That pricing disparity will attract buyers who figure out they can enjoy luxury features and powerful performance at a 20 t0 30% discount to comparable German and Japanese luxury models.
MORE: A luxury car by ... Kia?
Longer term, Hyundai's goal is to sell its luxury cars at pricing parity to the world's best, an outcome that looks much less far-fetched than it did a few years ago. (Another Korean brand, Samsung, went from being a cut-rate brand of color televisions to a highly regarded one that has helped to push Japan's Sony to the margins.) Meantime, the new luxury car should raise the brand awareness of Hyundai, and its reputation for engineering.
Of his South Korean colleagues, Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai's U.S. president, said "it's hard to describe how hard everyone works and how determined they are to achieve success." In January, Zuchowski replaced John Krafcik in the top U.S. executive post.
Hyundai and its sister company, Kia, now command close to 8% of the U.S. market, just behind Nissan and way ahead of Volkswagen. Later this year, Hyundai will unveil its next-generation Sonata, the family sedan that's arguably its most-important model.
Barring the unforeseen, the Hyundai juggernaut looks poised to keep on rolling, taking business from any other automaker that can't keep up with its energy and ambition.
Korean auto giant Hyundai is still surging, but conflict at home could curb its growth.
By Doron Levin
FORTUNE -- The remarkable rise in popularity of Hyundai and sister brand Kia with U.S. car buyers has largely unfolded over the past few years against a backdrop of calm on the Korean peninsula. As tensions rise in the manufacturer's homeland, some are asking how unrest might affect Hyundai's surging global business.
The prospect MOREApr 4, 2013 7:22 AM ET
Hyundai's newest CUV, the Santa Fe, couldn't be more in line with U.S. drivers' tastes. And the Korean auto company is counting on that.
By Doron Levin
FORTUNE -- The growing preference among American motorists for crossover utility vehicles -- so-called CUVs -- is reflected by the stream of new variants to reach showrooms. The latest? Hyundai's seven-passenger Santa Fe.
Hyundai has risked confusion by calling its new model the Santa Fe -- MOREMar 18, 2013 12:18 PM ET
Hyundai's two new cars and its luxury-car strategy offer proof that GM, Ford and Toyota ought to worry more about the South Korean automaker than one another.
By Doron Levin, contributor
FORTUNE -- Two main themes of 2011's post-recession competition in the U.S. car market so far are: 1) the rebound of Detroit and 2) the stumbles of Toyota.
A third and equally significant development has drawn less attention, namely the surging fortunes MOREJul 6, 2011 8:15 AM ET
The year just ended was a sensational one for Hyundai, and the Korean automaker begins 2011 by introducing a sensational car.
Hyundai exceeded 500,000 unit sales in the U.S. in 2010 and established itself among the industry's top seven sellers.
Equally important for the long-term future of the brand, it created, right out of the box, a premium luxury car in the Equus that is the equal of the Mercedes S-class and MOREJan 18, 2011 11:41 AM ET
Despite a steep price tag and less than stellar drivability, the 2011 Sonata puts Hyundai in the hybrid game, giving shoppers another reason to consider a brand they might have snubbed a few years ago.
In 2010, the Hyundai Sonata came out of nowhere to break into the ranks of the 10-best selling vehicles for the first time. Don't be surprised to see it challenge for the top five in MOREDec 30, 2010 10:31 AM ET
I have to confess: I hadn't been totally sold on Hyundai. Yes, it offered superb value -- more equipment than you expected for the price. But the designs were at first too quirky, and then too bland -- frankly imitative of its competitors. Hyundai seemed more a clever follower than a market leader.
The 2009 Genesis sedan was the first Hyundai that showed real originality as well as a sophisticated aesthetic. MOREMay 19, 2010 11:27 AM ET
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