Hyundai Sales Chief In U.S. Out -- WSJ

Hyundai Motor Co.'s top U.S. sales executive resigned, the latest departure in the Korean auto maker's top American ranks during a string of disappointing sales results.

Derrick Hatami, the auto maker's vice president of national sales in the U.S., departed Monday for a "position outside the company," a Hyundai spokesman said. Hyundai has immediately begun searching for a successor while Sam Brnovich, the auto maker's southern regional general manager, "will support the overall sales organization," the spokesman said.

Mr. Hatami's departure comes after Hyundai posted one of the industry's worst U.S. sales performances in May and months after the company's top American executive left. Dave Zuchowski headed Hyundai's U.S. operations for nearly three years before leaving in December amid stalling market share.

Hyundai's U.S. sales plunged nearly 16% in May, and have fallen roughly 5% so far this year. The Korean auto maker has failed to keep pace with Americans' changing tastes over the past several years -- toward crossover wagons and larger sport-utility vehicles amid a run of low gasoline prices, said Adam Kraushaar, who chaired Hyundai's National Dealer Council until the end of 2016.

The auto maker has also been selling too many vehicles to fleet customers such as rental-car agencies, a move that can ding residual values, Mr. Kraushaar said. "There's some instability at Hyundai and it's concerning," he said in an interview.

Mr. Brnovich's "more than 30 years of experience in the industry will help us continue our momentum heading into the second half of the year," the Hyundai spokesman said, referring to Mr. Hatami's interim replacement. "We also have confidence in our entire sales organization to work hand-in-hand with Hyundai's dealer body to provide customers with industry-leading vehicles, technology and customer service." The spokesman added that Mr. Hatami "served the company well during his time as head of sales and we wish him nothing but success."

Mr. Kraushaar said over the past three years, Hyundai has been slow to respond to a changing U.S. market. A perfect storm of factors following the recession, including rising gas prices, General Motors and Chrysler going through bankruptcy and a soft economy, led to Hyundai's gains in market share in a competitive U.S. market.

Hyundai "thought they had arrived," Mr. Kraushaar said. But after the economy began to recover and gas prices dropped, consumer preference shifted to crossovers, SUVs and pickups over sedans, which are Hyundai's traditional strength. Hyundai has struggled to maintain its momentum.

Earlier this year, Hyundai's Chairman Chung Mong-koo said the auto maker and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. will launch more than 10 new or revamped cars every year to meet changing consumer tastes.

Although Hyundai's sales are slumping, the auto maker's commitment to the profitable U.S. market remains strong. At the beginning of the year, Hyundai said it would invest up to $3.1 billion in its existing U.S. manufacturing facilities and was considering building a new plant.

Mr. Hatami was in his position as vice president of sales for just under two years, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before a brief stint at Nissan Motor Corp. from 2014 to 2015, he was with Hyundai for nearly a decade, holding various positions across the company. Mr. Hatami's biography has been removed from Hyundai's website.

Write to Adrienne Roberts at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 08, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)