I was driving along the other day when I noticed something approaching my mirror extremely quickly. From a distance it kinda looked like a Lexus but I couldn’t quite place it. Mostly because unlike a Lexus, this car didn’t have a face that looked like the predator or the ‘I swear I am not a Toyota in Japan’ overcompensating L badge. In the fractions of a second it took me to critique the looks the sedan was close enough to be clear on my rearview mirror.
It was a Hyundai Genesis sedan. The latest in a row of cars that cemented the reputation of Hyundai as the New Toyota while Toyota is fighting with VAG over who wants to be the new GM. And, like VAG and Toyota, its success had to start from somewhere.
Now, while it took them until 1975 to produce a car on their own, Hyundai had existed for quite a while by then. It was founded in 1944 as Hyundai Building and Construction, then shortened to Hyundai Construction. Business boomed on account on the rebuilding efforts after the war and soon enough they found themselves not only taking care of construction, but setting up a separate company for making construction materials too. Their first automotive-related project to go overseas wasn’t a car, but rather a highway built in Thailand in 1965. The Hyundai Motor Company itself was another of their diversifying projects.
Their first products were Ford Cortinas built under license. Some of their parts made them into the Pony, which itself ended up becoming a multicultural melting pot. The Koreans brought the manufacturing facilities and the capital, the British brought in some leftover parts and the expertise from former British Leyland higher-ups. Mitsubishi brought the engines and Italdesign is responsible for the styling. Something I found very hard to believe until I remembered that apart from the Golf, The DeLorean and the M1 they were also responsible for the Daewoo Lanos, the Lacetti and the Daihatsu Move. Also the Morris Ital, but that’s a story for another day.
Now having a car of their very own to compete in international markets, Hyundai started exporting the Pony in 1976. Not to the U.S of course as they were starting to tighten their belts on the emissions front and the Mitsubishi powerplants were simply unable to cope. Nevertheless it still was a hit on the Latin American market and, oddly enough, Canada; where the second generation Pony would go to become one of the best-selling vehicles in the country. Amazing when you notice that everywhere you go to read about the early Hyundai Pony you read about the fact they didn’t seem to have much in the way of quality control. Why? Because it was one of the cheapest cars you could buy on the market at the time of course!
Cheapness and sales numbers have an odd relationship with one another. On one hand everybody loves to get things cheap or at least feeling like they’ve scored something on the cheap. The frenzy that happened a couple of years ago over $99 HP tablets that nobody wanted before is an example. On the other hand, you don’t want to be seen with something that’s considered ‘cheap’, which is why the Tata Nano hasn’t been selling terribly well despite being designed to make perfect sense for Indian families. The Pony managed to walk that line very well, and kept selling even after bits started to wear prematurely or fall off.
There was also a pickup version. The most popular around my neck of the woods. Everyone that I know that owned one seem to remember their ownership experience fondly. Even the army bought a couple of hundred of those for active duty and you could see them running about well into the ‘00s. For all the talk about them being of questionable quality, the pickups seem to live longer and still see active duty, like the example above.
It’s amazing to think that less than 40 years separate this car and the Genesis that overtook me and quickly disappeared into the distance. Or the Equus, a $60,000.00 Mercedes fighter. Even the Accent is a considerably more mature package than its direct predecessor. And I don’t see anyone complaining much about them other than how dull they are.