Head of Genesis Says It's at a 'Turning Point' in its Quest For Luxury Car Domination
Does the evidence back him up? We sit down with Genesis boss Manfred Fitzgerald to find out.
It's often said that building cars is hard, but really, building a car company is harder. We're not talking about the infrastructure, things like plants and robots and accounting departments. No, we're talking about the perception of the company, how it exists in people's minds. You can build the finest cars in the world, but getting people to give a damn is nine-tenths of the battle. A battle, it appears, that Genesis might be starting to win.
For a brand new...brand in the ocean of luxury cars out there, Genesis has been making some pretty big waves of late. This week, Consumer Reports ranked the Korean upstart the best car company in 2018, and though its entire portfolio consists of two rear-wheel-drive sedans, the concentrated approach reflects a strategy built around getting things right. And according to boss Manfred Fitzgerald, the man who rescued Lamborghini in the late 1990s and turned it into a global performance powerhouse, that focus has led Genesis to a "turning point."
We sat down with Fitzgerald to talk about all this in a setting that befitted the company's mission to upend the old guard: The Genesis Open PGA golf tournament in Pacific Palisades, California. And despite the visual of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson strolling through a garden of Genesis logos on their way to tee off, Fitzgerald was immediately up front about the struggle for recognition.
"I think I’m not kidding myself. We’re not there yet, by far. We still have single digit awareness figures," he admitted. "But I think we're onto something here."
That could soon change with the launch of the Genesis G70, a compact sports sedan built on the same platform as the celebrated Kia Stinger. It's often billed as a BMW 3 Series-fighter, but we'll have to wait until this summer to get our hands on one and see for ourselves. Then there's the GV80, an SUV due out in 2019. Fitzgerald also hinted at a new, previously unmentioned concept set to be unveiled at the New York Auto Show this spring.
"If you’re in town, you should not miss that one. I think this will be a turning point for the brand, and how people look upon this brand... this one will definitely push the envelope," he said.
In some ways, the genesis of Genesis (sorry) mirrors that of Lexus—both are luxury car manufacturers from Asia that sprang forth from an established automaker (Genesis from Hyundai, Lexus from Toyota) to fill a perceived hole in the market. And both entered their second year of sales in this country with just two sedans on the showroom floor.
But the similarities end there. Fitzgerald pointed out that Lexus launched with a sole focus on making high quality, insanely reliable cars. But these days, you can't expect a car to speak for itself. And with a new standalone network of dealers currently being assembled in this country, he hopes Genesis will present a different kind of buying and ownership experience that stands out from the "dreadful" status quo.
"I think limiting ourselves just to the product wouldn’t do justice of what we’re trying to create," he said. "And this will only be perceived through experience, so, hold our feet to the fire."
Fancy showrooms need more than just a few sedan and a crossover to fill the floor, though Fitzgerald is circumspect about future product plans. But in between talk of "white space" and "intelligent" cars, he did confirm some of the fundamentals that will guide the Genesis brand in the coming years.
The rear-wheel-drive layout—along with the proportions it gives to a car—is non-negotiable even when it comes to SUVs, he said. His team wants to avoid a "Russian Doll effect" of identical vehicles in different sizes by giving every model they sell its own mission and purpose. Hard-line performance models probably aren't in the works; instead, the company will use those resources to tap into Hyundai's work on alternative fuels and develop either a hydrogen or electric car. At the same time, Fitzgerald reiterated that modern cars have become too complicated, and that Genesis would seek to avoid adding technology for technology's sake.
"Technology is at its best when its felt. So it has to make a difference. If it doesn’t make a perceptible difference, why bother? When we do something, it has to work well," he said. "So being first on something is not necessarily what we strive for."
We did press him on one specific point—with the Kia Telluride full-size SUV concept reportedly making its way into production, any plans for a Korean Escalade, a mack-daddy Genesis SUV?
"A mack-daddy SUV?" he laughed. "Like I said before, there are so many white spots out there for us to fill. No comment."