THE GERMANS might not win at everything – they suck at cricket for a start – but they can claim to own the luxury-car market. Smaller, super-premium players from England and Italy swan in the background, but BMW, Benz and Audi are the triumphant triumvirate, despite a largely lukewarm challenge from Lexus, and other Japanese brands like the almost invisible Infiniti and Mazda’s forgotten Eunos.
It comes as something of a shock, then, to hear Manfred Fitzgerald – the brand chief of Genesis Motors and the gent with the task of mapping out strategies and formulating its brand DNA – declaring that he wants to massage “Made in Korea” into a massive positive for the brand.
“Being distinctly Korean is something no-one else can do,” the 55-year-old industry veteran says proudly. Perhaps unsurprisingly he goes on to use the word “audacity” and talks up the need to be bold and progressive. His aim, he says, is to make Genesis a luxury-brand force globally, and one that generates enormous pride in all Koreans. Which it surely will, if it somehow manages to carve out success in such a competitive, cut-throat and established segment.
Fitzgerald, a former Lamborghini brand and design boss with almost 20 years of experience, is on safer ground when he declares that “this is definitely the most challenging adventure the company [Hyundai) has engaged in. We’re a young brand but we know where we’re going.”
Fluent in German, English and Italian, the trim, sharply dressed former motor racer embodies the cool, confident look his brand hopes to deliver. The son of an American military father and a German mother, Fitzgerald grew up in Arizona and Germany before spending 14 years in Italy and six in Spain.
He quietly spells out his plans for Genesis, without a hint of arrogance or entitlement. There is passion but no signs of evangelism. Nor can he be coaxed into placing a time target on success. He’s way too smart to fall for that trap.
Fitzgerald has an unruffled, infectious passion for Genesis. His aim is to establish a brand that goes “beyond” being a car manufacturer. “We must explore all avenues. That’s the most important thing to define our DNA.
“Our models will be doing great things in design, have their own character and speak to different people, who [have] different necessities and desires. It’s not only about hardware. What we’re trying to do is have a holistic approach to the brand. Yes, product is the most important but it doesn’t end there.”
Fitzgerald visualises many more opportunities to engage with customers. “It’s not always related to the core product – the car. We want to go beyond that. There are so many different touchpoints.
“We are looking for different angles; other opportunities.” Somewhat mysteriously, he says it’s a segment where there’s an opportunity to interpret many services and aspects of business, in a bid to become a larger part of customers’ lives.
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The standalone Genesis global luxury brand – initially launched in Korea three years ago, followed by the US in late 2016 – has just launched in Australia, initially with two sedans. There have been hiccoughs; the original introduction was planned for last December, but building delays forced a reschedule to mid-2019. Along the way, just before start-up, Genesis lost its general manager, Peter Evans.
Fitzgerald, who has visited Australia to get a better understanding of our tastes, was always adamant that Genesis would be launched here only when everything was in place – product, people, message and sales points.
Genesis won’t follow the classic showroom-sales model in Australia, instead selling directly from company-owned outlets, called ‘studios’ – all presented in striking copper and black – at three key CBD locations, attracting high volumes of foot traffic – Pitt Street in Sydney, and then Melbourne and Brisbane in 2020.
Fitzgerald says the objective is to take the brand to the customers, and to grow organically. Similar approaches will be used in Europe and China, the latter of which Fitzgerald suggests will prove to be the biggest single market for the brand.
“There are so many good cars out there. We have set out not to follow the path of others with one vehicle and having it different sizes, scaling it up or down,” adds Fitzgerald in a barely disguised shot at BMW. “We’re living in fascinating times. Nothing is so clear-cut any more. We have to hedge our bets.”