Hyundai CEO John Krafcik departs


John Krafcik

It’s always hard when we lose a CEO we like. John Krafcik, whose contract with Hyundai expires on December 31, 2013, is leaving, as his contract was not renewed. Krafcik, who came to Hyundai by way of Ford and GM, either happened to be at the right place at the right time, or knew what needed to be done to move Hyundai to the next level, or both.

Krafcik joined Hyundai in 2004 as VP of Product Development and Strategic Planning, and moved into the President/CEO position in 2008. Since taking the lead Krafcik increased Hyundai’s U.S. market share over 50%, and introduced great programs like Hyundai Assurance and Hyundai’s BlueLink connectivity system. His leadership also helped Hyundai win two prestigious awards: the Hyundai Genesis took home the North American Car of the Year award in 2009, and the Hyundai Elantra won it in 2012.

Rumors abound about why Krafcik isn’t taking Hyundai into 2014. Some say it was the fuel economy debacle where the brand was caught misrepresenting its 40 mpg status on some vehicles, which resulted in credits to the owners who purchased those vehicles looking for excellent fuel economy. Others say that since Hyundai sales have not kept up the furious pace it has enjoyed over the past few years, the Korean parent company needed a head to chop off, and Krafcik’s was the obvious choice.

What Hyundai must understand it that no manufacturer stays at the top of the circle forever. The industry is fickle and cyclical…you can’t have a new lineup of cars every year. Hyundai introduced some great products, but at some point it has to slow down. That’s not the fault of the CEO. Add in the production restraints (Hyundai was building them as fast as it could, but still not enough to keep up with demand), and that’s another reason for sales to drop.

The sad part is, Hyundai is losing not only a great CEO, but a CEO who was accessible to journalists and consumers alike. He didn’t strut around auto shows with an entourage of security guards like some top brass we know (GM). He was personable, honest, defended the brand, and really knew the products.

We know with his credentials, someone will grab him fast. Perhaps at Ford, either replacing Mulally or under Mark Fields. Or even at GM under the new female boss. Time will tell. We wish him best of luck. The new CEO has been named: Dave Zuchowski. We wish him luck as well…it appears he’ll need it.