John Krafcik, the president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, is stepping down next week after five years at the helm, the company announced Friday. He will be replaced by David Zuchowski, the current executive vice president of sales who joined the company in February 2007.
When Krafcik became CEO of American operations in 2008, the South Korean automaker's cars were ugly and often broke down. During his tenure, he pushed through quality, style and fuel efficiency improvements to help drive up sales. Hyundai Sonata midsize cars and Elantra compacts became top sellers and multiple models garnered the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick designation.
Hyundai had already started to change before Krafcik arrived, offering a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty with its cars. But the transformation from joke to juggernaut accelerated under his watch. Krafcik didn't just focus on the engine but how people used their cars as personal living spaces.
"Finding room for people's stuff is one of our priority focal points," he told The Associated Press in a 2012 interview. "Let me give you a great example. Cup holders and bottle holders. This is a great success for Hyundai, and it took some time to convince the engineers that this is what we needed to do (because) cup holders cost money."
While the company's cars found success, Krafcik has faced serious challenges in the latter years of his tenure.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's determined that that Hyundai and Kia overstated gas mileage claims on window stickers of 900,000 vehicles in the past three years.
And the automaker has had trouble in the last couple of years keeping up with demand. As Hyundai dealers complained that they could sell more cars if only they could get them, the company tried to add more capacity to its U.S. assembly plant. But the lack of production has cost the company sales. Hyundai's U.S. sales were up only 1.9 percent for the first half of 2013, less than a quarter of the overall market's 8.4 percent growth rate.
Zuchowski, a 33-year-veteran of the auto industry, joined Hyundai Motor America in February 2007 as vice president of sales. He started his career in 1980 at Ford, where he became national merchandising manager and field operations manager for the Ford and Mercury divisions. He later served as vice president of sales and field operations for Mazda North America.
"I am both humbled and excited to lead Hyundai Motor America into the next chapter by continuing to build on John's great legacy, and focusing on what matters most — building the highest quality, safest and most diverse fleet of models that customers love," Zuchowski said in a statement.
Hyundai Motor America, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. of Korea.