Long live the Hyundai Excel. Long live the Hyundai Getz. Long live the Hyundai i20.
These three cars formed the basis for the rise of the South Korean brand from a budget-conscious minnow to a top-three contender in the Australian market.
Sure, it has added seemingly a thousand other models since the original Hyundai Excel came to market way back in 1986 under the guidance of entrepreneur Alan Bond, but there have been some big milestones for the company’s small cars over the years.
Back then, the Excel was just $9990 plus on-road costs, though dealers were doing sales at $9990 drive-away.
The real breakthrough, though, was the popular bubble-shaped X3 Excel, which outsold the Holden Commodore in June 1998. And rumour has it that John Hughes’ dealership in Western Australia was the world’s most successful seller of Hyundai cars from 1997 to 2003. (Hughes was one of the other forces behind pushing the Hyundai agenda for Australia in its early days.)
I’ll be straight up – that original boxy Excel was something of a shitter. The one that came after it, the X3, had a lot more cut-through with buyers due to its modern appearance. It also became popular with four-pot fans who modded Excels with big body kits and blingy chrome rims.
I still have nightmares about one such example that used to shriek down the streets of my hometown in the early 2000s with its ridiculous 3.5-inch exhaust system which, of course, lead to an angled 9.0-inch barrel tip. And no, it wasn’t mine.
That model was at its cheapest in 2000 when it was selling – in Excel Sprint three-door manual guise – at just $13,140 plus on-roads.
After that was the Getz, a strong-selling little three- or five-door hatchback that, again, was priced sharply and had heaps of appeal with rental fleets as well as private buyers. It was listed from $13,490 plus on-road costs between 2003 and 2005.
Following the Getz came the Indian-made i20, which was blasted for poor fit and finish early in its life in Australia, but hit back with ultra-sharp drive-away pricing. It was listed at $14,990 plus on-roads, but there were deals being done for less than $11,000 drive-away in the beginning, and a $12,990 drive-away manual model was a staple of the range until it finished up earlier this year.
These cars – cheap and cheerful as they were – had a lot to do with the success of Hyundai in Australia. If it didn’t have a cheap car in its formative years, it would never have gained a foothold in this market. That’s indisputable.
But the brand has worked hard to shirk that image in recent times, introducing the high-end Genesis luxury sedan – a car that many have questioned the viability of in this market, especially given the fact that large sedans are dying fast and smaller luxury cars from actual luxury brands are booming.
So can Hyundai continue to have such success in the Australian market without a proper little cheapie at the entry level?
In 2015 the company phased out the Indian-made i20, and it won’t replace that version with the new Indian model because, as CarAdvice understands, the car isn’t safe enough. Nor will it bring the Euro i20, because that car is too dear.
The same goes for what would be the other logical small car, the i10, as the Euro version would probably have to be priced near the $15,000 mark.
Instead, the entry-level Korean-built Accent sedan and hatch models have been repositioned in the entry-level spot. Accent now starts at $14,990 plus on-road costs for the base model 1.4-litre manual, while the auto version is a $16,990 proposition.
The brand is already selling the cars at drive-away pricing, with the Accent hatch and sedan having been on sale for $15,990 d/a with the CVT auto added for nix.
But the big factor here is that Hyundai seemingly wants to move away from that cheap and cheerful image. The brand doesn’t want to be seen as a budget player, but a value offering.
I just hope the company doesn’t forget its past, because that’s the reason it is seeing such enormous success today.
Tell us what you think: Can Hyundai keep growing without a really cheap car as its base model?