February 11, 2009

Hyundai U.S. head backs exec pay limit

The head of Hyundai North America Wednesday said automakers should not rely on federal government help and should own up to their shortcomings.

John Krafcik, chief executive officer and president of Hyundai North America, said the auto industry is undergoing a cultural revolution in addition to coping and adapting to a global financial crisis.

Part of today's revolution is about accountability, Krafcik said at the 2009 Chicago Auto Show Media Preview. If the president of the United States can admit he screwed up on some of his Cabinet nominations, then we shouldn't be bashful in acknowledging that we have been far from perfect in our actions.

He said auto executives are asking themselves if this is a recession or are we in a depression? One thing seems fairly certain -- as 2009 unfolds, the era of greed may finally be at a close. The current global economic crisis has paved the way for significant change.

The auto industry in the United States is viewed for the most part as a slow, dim-witted industry that is typically unresponsive to consumer and environmental needs, he said. If that weren't bad enough, our executives are criticized for lavish compensation, abundant perks and unnecessary entitlements.

Krafcik said the time has come for more discipline and sensitivity in the industry's approach to business.

What if our industry was the first to exercise a more inclusive form of capitalism that voluntarily restrained executive compensation to a reasonable multiple of average employee salary? he asked.

Last month, the South Korean automaker introduced the Hyundai Assurance Program, which guarantees U.S. customers who buy new cars, then lose their jobs within a year of purchase can return the vehicle without damaging their credit rating.

Hyundai sales were up 4.1 percent in January compared to Jan. 2008, said Krafcik, who later introduced the 2010 Genesis Coupe 2.0T, a turbo-charged, 210 horsepower, 30 mpg (highway) sports coupe that begins at $22,000. The enthusiasts' Genesis Coupe R-Spec tuner version begins at $24,500.