Interview by Kap Maceda Aguila
LEE DONG WOOK smiles broadly after someone tells him he shares a name with a famous Korean actor, host, model, and entertainer. He surely must have heard this numerous times, but Mr. Lee gamely acknowledges the comment. Coffee and lunch with the man in June revealed a lot about his qualities as a no-nonsense yet polite executive who is relishing the chance at a reboot for Hyundai.
Affable and always bowing as he thanks people, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate person to be the face of the brand as it aspires to be the powerhouse it once was here in the country. We caught up with Mr. Lee for a short, exclusive interview following the formal announcement of the brand’s return to the action.
Here are excerpts of our talk with him.
VELOCITY: What is your number one priority as far as the Hyundai brand is concerned?
LEE DONG WOOK: Two things are very important. The first one is customer experience. We want to deliver a new customer experience. Another one is customer satisfaction. So, these two things are the most important, and we are now preparing our dealer partners to provide excellent customer satisfaction and customer experience.
We’ve seen new models on the road already, particularly your new SUVs.
The reason we launched the SUVs first is because these are globally loved models by our customers. So, we launched the Santa Fe, Tucson, and Creta. The Creta is a well-received model produced in Indonesia. (The plant) started production in January this year. So, new factory, new cars. I think Filipinos will enjoy our new products, with very nice features.
What does this mean for the other models that Filipinos are also familiar with? For example, during the first HMPH press conference, you said something about the Reina sedan’s discontinuation. Aside from the Creta, Tucson, Santa Fe, and Staria, what other models are you going to be selling in the Philippines?
We’ve been seeing that the market trend is changing from passenger cars to SUVs. Although I’m driving the Sonata Hybrid in Korea, so many customers there choose SUVs instead of cars. During weekends, they enjoy weekend drives with their family. SUVs, as you know, are very nice for the family.
Since you’ve mentioned hybrids, your competitors are already bringing in electrified — in some cases full electric — vehicles. What is the plan for HMPH? Are you looking at that space as well?
Hyundai Motor Co. has good technologies, including the hybrid for EVs and we also have a specific Santa Fe hybrid. So, we are now studying which models and specifications are right for Filipino customers. We are now studying to launch the Santa Fe hybrid and also the Ioniq 5, but first of all, we have to consider the market demand. After studying, we will make a decision.
Can we say that probably we might see that sooner or later? Sooner, hopefully?
(In terms of) consumption, an EV is better than a hybrid, as you know. Also, our Ioniq 5 has won so many prizes — as a global COTY (Car of the Year), in UK, Germany. We’ve received so many awards, including design awards. So now we are considering to display our Ioniq 5 through the Philippine International Motor Show (PIMS) and EV Summit. We are considering to launch the Ioniq 5 for the Philippine market.
You told us before that HMPH is seeking membership in CAMPI (Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc.). How is that going right now?
We have a good relationship with CAMPI, and so we are waiting for good news. Anyway, I think we can provide a good experience for the Philippine customers with our Ioniq 5 in the two events (PIMS and the EV Summit).
So you will be launching there?
We’ll just display first. Hopefully, maybe, this year. So, we are now considering to launch the Ioniq 5.
One of the lingering issues in the industry right now is vehicle supply. There’s a global crisis as far as parts go — even production. How is the situation in terms of inventory for HMPH? If I wanted to get a Tucson now, and I walked into one of your showrooms, can I get one right away?
Yes. If you want to buy our cars, you can get them at any time in our showroom. HMPH is now providing our cars to dealerships because our customers have been waiting for our cars for a long time — two years. The Philippine market is a very important market — one of the important markets in Asia. Five years ago, the Philippines was the number one Hyundai market (in Asia), so we would like to focus on this market, even though we have the same challenges like other brands. We will do our best to provide our cars to our customers.
It’s very notable you mentioned that Hyundai Motor Co. is aware of how important the Philippine market is. As you said, Hyundai was once a very strong brand in the country. So maybe as a parting word, what are your ultimate dreams for the brand in the Philippines? Are you gunning for number one?
Hopefully, it is possible. We would like to be number one, but we have to prepare the dealer network, increase customer satisfaction, increase customer confidence — then we can get to first place.