Hyundai wants to increase its market share to five percent in Europe by 2020 from 3.5 percent at present, the head of the South Korean carmaker's European arm said Tuesday.
Hyundai actually benefitted from the crisis that slammed into Europe's car market in 2007, winning precious market share from European domestic competitors, Hyundai Motor Europe's chief operating officer Allan Rushforth told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of the IAA auto show in Frankfurt.
"We actually took benefit out of the crisis, together with our sister brand Kia. The Korean brands were able to use the crisis and turn it into an opportunity," Rushforth said.
Hyundai had just opened a factory in the Czech Republic in 2007 and begun to expand its European model range.
"So we were able to bring new vehicles into new segments from that time, which allowed our sales to grow in a market that was declining," he said.
In addition, the German government launched a scheme to entice consumers to trade in their old cars for more environmentally friendly models, which was subsequently copied by other European countries.
While many other manufacturers had taken out capacity in response to the crisis, leaving them unable to respond quickly to the sudden demand, Hyundai with its brand new Czech factory was in a position to quickly divert products into Germany.
"That gave us a head start on other car manufacturers and enabled us to get product momentum and sales momentum and increase our sales and share through to where we are today. We doubled our market from 1.7 percent in 2007 to 3.5 percent today," Rushforth said.
Rushforth said he believes the European market is on the verge of recovery and northern Europe in particular has already put the worst behind it.
"Germany was always going to lead Europe towards increased prosperity in the fourth quarter and I think that's started earlier than planned. Even I am surprised at the levels of consumer confidence in Germany," Rushforth said.
But while northern Europe was in "reasonable shape... challenges remain in Italy and Spain," he said.
Nevertheless, "overall I think we'll see recovery from September onwards. And probably two- or three-percent growth in the European car market next year," he added.
Rushforth conceded that such a forecast was "relatively optimistic. But frankly we've got a lot of recovery to do before we get back to the levels the market was at in 2008 and especially 2007."
Asked whether the European market would ever be able to return to the record levels of around 18 million vehicle sales in 2007, Rushforth said: "I guess you never say never."
Hyundai's "ambitions are to attain half a million sales by 2017 and a five-percent share value by the end of the decade," he said.
Hyundai does not publish profit figures for Europe, but Rushforth said "we do make money at an operating level" in the region.
In order to increase its market share, the group planned to roll out 22 new models and their derivatives over the next four years, he said.
Part of Hyundai's success in winning market share from domestic European rivals was its lower prices, he said.
"With the arrival of the financial crisis, financially people were more susceptible to a value proposition," he said.
And even as the economy recovers, "consumers are unlikely to immediately relinquish their search for value," Rushforth said.
One of the group's US rivals, Chevrolet, a subsidiary of General Motors, has said it plans to step into the gap as groups such as Hyundai and Kia gradually move upmarket.
But Rushforth said that while Hyundai was indeed moving away from making cheap cars, "we'll always configure our brand around value.
"Consumers will always look for value. They'll choose whether they're going to find that in a cheap car or in a car that offers them better value," he said.