Genesis, The Newest Luxury Auto Brand

We test drive the G90 and G80 Sport, and speak with ‎General Manager Erwin Raphael about launching a new brand

The auto business is a difficult one to crack in any market segment, but tackling the luxury category is an exercise in the sophisticated art of making, selling and servicing vehicles as well as entering into a business category with its own particularities. GenesisHyundai‘s luxury vehicle division—is aiming to do just that. Like others before it (Acura from Honda, Lexus from Toyota, Infiniti from Nissan), Hyundai mastered the art of making great cars and felt there was an opportunity to serve the higher end of the market. The name Genesis was first used for a high-end Hyundai sedan in 2008 and, with its success, was used as the name for the luxury division itself when it launched in 2015. That vehicle is now known as the G80, and it was joined by the larger flagship G90 sedan in 2016, the introduction of the G80 Sport in 2017, and will likely be joined by the GV80 SUV in the near future.

To gain a better understanding of the brand, its messaging and the vehicles themselves, we took the G80 Sport and G90 for test drives. Erwin Raphael, the General Manager at Genesis Motor America, joined us for an afternoon drive in the G80 Sport in Napa Valley, and we talked about the challenges and opportunities of launching a new luxury brand. “It is beyond words,” he begins, “because we’re doing something that’s unique.”

The world has evolved. Luxury has evolved. Automobiles have evolved. The retail environment has evolved, and what makes customers feel special has evolved as well

He says that Genesis is based on four key brand pillars: dynamic and elegant design, engaging and refined performance, world-class safety and advanced technology “that improves the lives and experiences of our customers.” Producing great cars is just the cost of entry—it’s expected and unsurprising. Where brands can and need to excel and differentiate is in the delivery, experience, service and other elements that create and sustain the emotional bond between people and their products. Raphael says that while heritage brand competition was certainly considered, it’s not been the main focus of the brand’s strategy. “We did spend time looking at that history, but also considering the fact that the world has evolved,” he says. “Luxury has evolved. Automobiles have evolved. The retail environment has evolved, and what makes customers feel special has evolved as well.”

The Genesis brand is anchored to two elements: desire and value, aiming to create products that consumers will want while also making them feel special. Raphael explains, “The vehicle is what people see. That’s the product. We are a luxury automobile company, but a lot of times the specific element that we use to reach and to connect may have less to do with the automobile than it does with what’s important to each individual.” While rethinking and launching their dedicated dealership experience consumers need to visit Hyundai dealers, which limits the brand immersion and expression. Genesis is focusing on other aspects, such as convenience. For example, all Genesis vehicles come with three years of complimentary service along with valet service—simply schedule your car for service and a loaner will be driven to you to use while your car is being serviced, and your car will be delivered back when it’s ready. The Genesis Intelligent Assistant is an app that connects to the car, allowing you to start it remotely, set the temperature or access vehicle information among other services. Owners enjoy three years free service along with the valet to pick up and return their car, three years of connected services including roadside assistance, SiriusXM service and traffic data. Genesis was the first auto maker to integrate with Amazon’s Alexa, and is launching Google Home integration this summer. Respecting an owner’s time is one way in which the brand is thinking about luxury and what it means to shop for and own a vehicle today.

This respect for their customer permeates the company and stands at the forefront of the brand’s strategy. Raphael explains that they think of their customers as partners: “We will continue to evolve our brand as the ecosystem in which we exist evolves. And hopefully we can do that collaboratively with our potential customers or partners. They’re forward-thinking, they’re risk-takers… They’re invested in things that are meaningful to themselves. And we’re really a partner in delivering that to them [from an automotive standpoint].”

Another way the brand is innovating is by simplifying the decision-making process for the cars options. So simple, in fact, that there are no various packages to choose from. Every Genesis comes fully loaded, with every available convenience and safety feature. Customers choose the color of the exterior and interior, the size of the engine and whether they want rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. That’s it. This simplifies the manufacturing and inventory process, delivering cost savings and allowing customers to find the vehicle they want quickly.

The G90 is the brand’s largest sedan and competes against some of the most well-known and respected cars in the industry, and it holds its own, delivering the kind of power and driving experience alongside all of the latest technology at a lower price point than its peers.

In contrast, the G80 Sport builds off the brand’s popular full-size G80 sedan, but adds performance and sporty styling. It’s spritely and fun to drive, handles well, and finds a nice balance between comfort, style and sport that suits the brand and potential customer. The Sport is differentiated from the G80 by it’s dynamic front face and cross hatch grille, copper elements, and full led headlights. Its 19” split spoke alloy wheels are unique to the Sport, as is its dark chrome trim and

aggressive rear diffuser. The interior features a three spoke steering wheel and unique stitching, carbon fiber trim and enhanced seats.

This past April, Genesis revealed its GV80 advanced hydrogen fuel cell concept SUV, which is likely to launch in the near future (though likely in more traditional powertrains). The body design is powerful and understated, with a familiarity undercut by signature Genesis design elements like their crest grille and wide-set horizontal quad headlamps. It’s sophisticated inside and athletic outside.

Raphael makes clear that the majority of drivers are people who just want to get from point A to point B, though, he acknowledges and appreciates those who really love to be behind the wheel. He says, “The question becomes ‘What can we do for that customer in the interim?'” He deems Genesis to be a conduit, figuring out how to get a driver and passengers to their destination seamlessly, with the essence of luxury that Genesis is helping to define. It’s that mentality as much as the execution that makes us excited to see how the brand takes advantage of its opportunities not just in developing new vehicles, but also with the customers’ experiences shopping for them, owning them, driving them, and integrating them into their lives.

Lead image by Evan Orensten, all other images courtesy of Genesis