Gee, it wasn't so long ago that the Korean vehicle maker Hyundai was something of a laughing stock after the "rivets fiasco" seriously dented its reputation in Oz.

Back in 1998, 46,000 Australian-delivered Excels were called back in to have underbody welds strengthened by dealers. Australian-delivered Excels had to have 16 steel rivets fitted to the sub-frame area which secures the suspension to prevent it from collapsing.

It was a problem destined to hit consumer confidence hard, taking many years to erase from the memories of the Australian car-buying public.

But, underscoring just how far Hyundai has bounced back, two Japanese car makers have publicly declared that the big Korean is fast becoming the car brand they fear most internationally.

It is also one of the few groups reporting improving sales in a slow market.

Hyundai - and not the fast-tracking, price-driven Chinese, nor the reborn Yanks, nor the always innovative Europeans, nor the leaner, government-backed Americans - is the company Japan's Nissan and Honda are most worried about.

Nissan's senior vice president Shiro Nakamura compared Hyundai's meteoric rise in the car industry to Samsung, which in the field of electronics is putting Sony under the gun.

Nakamura admitted that Hyundai, which posses current technology and has access to cheap labour, is the biggest threat for the Japanese car giants.

Honda's chief executive Takanobu Ito described Hyundai as "awesome" and went on to concede that its products are cheap, and the quality is improving.

So are sales. Hyundai, which also has Kia in its portfolio, now has more than five per cent of the global vehicle market and it's the fifth-largest automotive group and poised to move up to fourth this year.

Of the Japanese, only Toyota is bigger in sales.

Locally, Hyundai holds seven per cent of the Australian new-vehicle market year-to-date to September, and has fifth place behind Toyota, Holden, Ford and Mazda - and ahead of Mitsubishi, Nissan, Honda and Subaru.

Flash in the pan, or is Hyundai now a serious and valid threat to the likes of Toyota, VW Group, GM, and Ford?