Few gave Chung Mong Koo much of a chance when he took the helm of South Korea's largest carmaker, Hyundai Motor Co., in 1999. After all, in his 24 years running Hyundai's after-sales service unit, the bland son of founder Chung Ju Yung didn't express any grand vision for the auto business. Turns out, he had been trained to deliver what the company needed most: better quality.
This year, Chung, 66, made good on his promise to boost Hyundai's quality to "Toyota (TM ) levels." J.D. Power & Associates' 2004 survey of initial quality -- which counts complaints in the first 90 days of ownership -- showed the Korean auto maker had virtually caught up with Toyota Motor Corp. And Hyundai's Sonata was the top-ranked car in the "entry midsize" category.
Now Hyundai is on a roll. Despite a recent slump in Korean consumer spending that led to a 10% drop in domestic sales, the company expects a 2004 operating profit of some $2.4 billion, up 17% from 2003, on sales of $25.2 billion, up 8%. In China, Hyundai is expected to have sold 150,000 cars in 2004 -- triple its 2003 sales there.
In 2005, Hyundai will start building a revamped Sonata for the U.S. market to challenge Toyota's popular Camry. The new Sonata and Tucson sport-utility vehicle will also be key in efforts to expand in Europe, China, and smaller markets. With Chung at the helm, Hyundai now stands a chance of racing past its rivals.