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Hyundai's Letter To Duynhoven

18 August 2004

Mr Harry Duynhoven Minister of Transport Safety Parliament Buildings Wellington

cc Opposition Spokesperson on Transport, National Party cc Spokesperson on Transport, Act Party cc media

Dear Mr Duynhoven

At Hyundai we have been taking note of developments following your unfortunate release last week of used car safety ratings.

In particular I have noted the ill-advised comments to media by Australian Professor Max Cameron. His prominent and widely-publicised remarks on vehicles not to drive “…. especially any small car of Korean origin” are nothing but ludicrous.

That they should be tacitly endorsed by yourself as Minister and the LTSA is appalling to Hyundai, the major Korean brand in New Zealand and one of the world’s seven largest car manufacturers, on track for the top five by decade end partly thanks to its enviable safety record.

Numerous obvious facts in the information you released at the time, and in the accompanying booklet you are distributing widely, reveal the professor’s remarks to be ludicrous.

1 His comments are simply not borne out by the findings of the survey you are introducing. You have gradings called Light cars and Small cars. They grade on a scale of five: much better than average, better than average, average, worse and much worse.

Every single listing under Small cars shows Hyundai cars to rated average; listings of Light cars show them to be better than average, or much better, except one which is average.

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None is rated below average in either category! How the professor can interpret this information in his own survey to show a small Korean car is one to avoid, defies imagination.

Even more startling, most of the Hyundai cars the survey looks at are 1980s models and pre-1996, a few up to year 2000. There’s only one exception to that, Accent 2000 to 2002 (rated average). The fact is that old, and mostly very old, Korean cars make up an extremely small fraction of the New Zealand fleet. More modern Hyundai cars make up a significantly larger proportion of the fleet, both here and worldwide, I am delighted to report. Hyundai will account for between four and five percent of all new-car sales in New Zealand this year.

Looking at 1980s model vehicles, Korean and otherwise, is surely unhelpful to the objectives you are trying to achieve.

This survey is another example of the LTSA’s head-in-the-sand attitude to international safety initiatives, reporting Australian crash tests while ignoring the overwhelmingly more important USA and European tests which are accepted worldwide as the cornerstone of the vehicle industry.

One recent typical example (of many). Our Hyundai Elantra and XG sedans received the highest possible safety rating in the latest tests by the tough US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Moreso, New Zealand Hyundai cars have very different specs from Australian. That there is no comment on this by the professor suggests he has made no attempt to check the facts.

Hyundai of South Korea, and in particular Hyundai in New Zealand, pride ourselves on our industry-leading safety profile. Our initiatives in recent years are well noted by the industry itself including our competitors, by the media, and by observers. Some of these I outlined to the Minister for the Environment last month in a letter which I copied to yourself.

However it is to our chagrin that we have received no commendation, support or even comment, public or private, from your Ministerial office, nor from LTSA (or Monash University) on Hyundai safety initiatives, which include:

Hyundai’s industry precedent of making twin front air bags and ABS braking with EBD standard in every single one of our new vehicles sold in New Zealand.

* Every new Hyundai sold in New Zealand today comes standard with a comprehensive Safety Pack including a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and high-visibility jacket, at no extra cost. Fully compliant with OSH regulations, this is an industry first.

Recently we came out against the use of second-hand airbags and put our money where our mouth is on the price of new spares, slashing the cost of replacement airbags, typically to less than half, to help stamp out the fitting of bags from wrecked cars which is clearly unsafe although current laws allow the practice. Hyundai now supplies the entire industry with SRS components – airbags and control units – at cost price plus a nominal handling fee.

* Hyundai has just uncovered a counterfeit ring in South Korea which is manufacturing poor quality parts, including safety items such as brakes, for distribution worldwide. Shortly Hyundai in New Zealand will initiate a prominent publicity campaign warning the public.

This is not an exhaustive list. We believe the sum total of our various advances places Hyundai at the forefront of vehicle safety in New Zealand.

As noted this week by the Motor Industry Association, the general finding of your survey is that older cars are not as safe as more modern ones. Welcome to a century of progress! If it took all this research and analysis to identify that fact, we at Hyundai could have saved you a great deal of time and (taxpayer) money. We endorse MIA’s comment:

“We fully understand the LTSA’s motives in highlighting the degrees of occupant protection provided by used cars of various ages and types, but our roads would be a great deal safer if we didn’t allow the importation of so much outdated technology. The LTSA used car safety ratings certainly highlight just how little protection some older cars offer compared with today’s new cars.” Perry Kerr, CEO, MIA.

The professor’s ill-judged remarks merely restate a popular misconception of Korean cars (of which Hyundai is the acknowledged leader) which simply does not reflect the facts.

For example this month we launched in New Zealand the world-acclaimed new Tucson small SUV, bristling with safety features as it was specifically designed to achieve class-leading ratings in the important US and European (not Australian) NCAP tests. Tucson’s immediate popularity is so great that we have waiting lists several months long, especially for the baseline two-litre GLS model which offers dual front airbags (six airbags in the V6 model), electronic InterActive 4WD system, four-wheel disc brakes, ABS braking with EBD, traction control, side-impact beams and bars, and more … all at a brand new RRP price of $29,990.

In summary, the South Korean car Hyundai is among the safest, best-equipped vehicles on the road, as well as being exceptionally good value for money with its reliability and quality of build.

From just $16,990 the Kiwi motorist can own a brand new Hyundai with dual front airbags, ABS and a host of other safety features. And many of these models are now available second-hand at our dealerships and others.

All of which rather negates the need for a flood of sub-standard Japanese imports of questionable safety … and calls into question surveys such as this.

Certainly we do not need an Australian academic making ill-informed comments to New Zealand media. It was indefensible this professor deal in non-facts; he and LTSA would be silly to think he would not be held to account.

Mr Duynhoven, I call on you and LTSA to rectify this deplorable state of events.

Philip Eustace General Manager Hyundai Automotive New Zealand

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