LOS ANGELES -- Hyundai Motor America plans to roll out a new nationwide retail program by the beginning of 2018 that is aimed at reducing new-vehicle transaction time and increasing price transparency for its Hyundai brand.
The program, called Shopper Assurance, features four components that Hyundai hopes will not only streamline the buying process, but will also boost sales in a retail market that is putting an increasing amount of value on time.
The four elements of the new program: fair-market pricing listed online for each vehicle, flexible test drives at a customer's place of choice, digitizing more aspects of the buying process that can be done at home and a three-day money-back guarantee.
"We've just been looking for a while at how customer expectations are changing in the industry," Dean Evans, chief marketing officer for HMA, told Automotive News ahead of the announcement. "We're always looking forward and saying, 'How do we change our business to interface with what's happening around us?'"
The genesis of the program came roughly two years ago when Hyundai learned from Walmart and from its own research that the No. 1 priority for consumers has switched from saving money to saving time, Evans said.
The amount of time it takes to complete the process of buying a new vehicle has become an increasing source of ire for consumers in an age of digitally led instant gratification.
"Consumers have never been pleased with the car purchasing process as most feel completely out of control and at the mercy of the dealership," said Michael Harley, group managing editor for Kelley Blue Book. "While this isn't the first time an automaker has promised to revolutionize the car purchasing process, Hyundai's Shopper Assurance program takes a realistic, consumer friendly approach that just may work."
With Hyundai's history of customer-centric marketing innovations in the past -- and with a rise of online transaction efforts by various large dealer groups -- Hyundai saw an opportunity to get out ahead of other automakers with Shopper Assurance and create some noise for itself at the same time.
The program was announced Tuesday at HMA's headquarters in Fountain Valley, Calif. It will launch in the next several weeks in four trial markets: Miami, Orlando, Houston and Dallas, before launching nationally in the beginning of 2018.
Hyundai's Genesis luxury brand will get a similar program -- though likely with a few more bells and whistles -- sometime in 2018, Evans said.
Evans hopes to get around 700 of Hyundai's 820 dealers on board with the voluntary program. To participate, each Hyundai dealer needs to be using one of two software programs for their website: CDK's Connected Store and Dealer.com's Digital Retailing.
It's through this portal that participating dealers will set VIN-specific vehicle pricing. On Hyundai's end, all pertinent consumer discounts are automatically factored in. The dealership is able to set its own amount of discount off that vehicle's sticker price. This final price is then published on the dealership's website, with the goal of reducing haggling time.
The test drive portion allows customers to use Hyundai's website to schedule a test drive right from their doorstep. Shoppers choose a vehicle, a local dealer, whether they want a morning, afternoon or evening time slot on a weekday or weekend and enter contact information. Hyundai then reimburses dealers for each test drive they complete.
The online component will allow consumers to complete a variety of tasks at home, including applying for financing, getting a trade-in estimate and calculating payments.
Finally, the money-back guarantee promises customers a full refund if they're unsatisfied with the vehicle after three days and it has less than 300 miles on it.
While this latest program wasn't launched in direct response to Hyundai's rough 2017 sales performance (the brand is down 15 percent through September to 496,638 vehicles, vs. a U.S. light-vehicle market that is down 1.7 percent in the same period), Evans was confident this positive messaging would help add some luster to Hyundai's image in addition to a bump in sales.
He added: "I think between our research and just a common-sense point of view, we're looking for this to really have a good effect on our retail number and our brand, appealing to customers over time."