Hyundai Continues To Shine

I've mentioned before that Hyundai appears to be weathering the economic storm better than most auto companies. While so many other major automakers feel lucky to have flat sales year-over-year, Hyundai is growing incredibly. November auto sales data shows that this trend isn't fading.

Retuers reports:

Hyundai posted a 46 percent gain in sales for November and said it was on track to take a 4 percent share of the U.S. auto market this year, up by a third at a time when the rest of the industry has been reeling.

That's a staggering increase -- particularly in an economy suffering from 10.2% unemployment. And remember: there was no cash-for-clunkers in November. Meanwhile, here's how the other big guys did last month versus a year ago, according to that Reuters article:

Nissan: +21%
Toyota: +3%
Honda: -3%
Ford: Flat
GM: -2%
Chrysler: -25%

It's pretty clear at whose expense Hyundai's new sales are coming from: Honda, GM and Chrysler. Considering how large a market share those three automakers had, even a small sales shift to Hyundai can be responsible for an enormous gain for the Korean automaker. Toyota and Nissan have also benefited from those other automakers' pain, though to a less dramatic extent.

In the case of Honda, I don't think this is particularly surprising. Honda is generally viewed as a dependable, relatively inexpensive import. But Hyundai has improved its reliability ratings significantly over the past few years. Its vehicles are also cheaper than Honda's. As a result, consumers who used to find Honda attractive are likely increasingly buying Hyundais instead.

For GM and Chrysler, the reasoning is even more obvious: consumers are likely worried about their viability or reputation. Some are uncomfortable buying a car from a company that could cease to exist during the life of the vehicle or that just generally seem like a mess. Hyundai has likely picked up some of those consumers as well.

During a deep recession, many Americans who need to buy new cars are more sensitive to price. That serves as another advantage for Hyundai. And that's why it should be especially interesting to see how the automaker fares once the economy improves, and people are willing to spend more on cars again. I think if its vehicles' quality meets expectations, then its sales won't take a particularly significant hit, as there will always be plenty of Americans looking for a bargain no matter the economic climate. But if its cars' reliability ratings slide, all bets are off.