Un­happy with your Hyundai? Take it back

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Nathan Bomey @NathanBomey USA TO­DAY

For­get a test drive. How about a test buy?

Hyundai an­nounced Tues­day that it would al­low U.S. shop­pers to re­turn their ve­hi­cles within three days if they’re not happy with their pur­chase.

Although fran­chise au­to­mo­tive deal­er­ships can of­fer sim­i­lar deals on their own, Hyundai is be­lieved to be the first ma­jor au­tomaker to ex­tend the of­fer across its en­tire net­work. The com­pany will also al­low buy­ers to com­plete most pa­per­work on­line and sched­ule those old-fash­ioned test drives through the Web.

The over­hauled sales pro­ce­dure comes as au­tomak­ers are feel­ing pres­sure to re­make the deal­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence into a more dig­i­tal-friendly process.

Sil­i­con Val­ley au­tomaker Tesla has chal­lenged the in­dus­try by open­ing stores, in­stead of deal­er­ships, and al­low­ing peo­ple to do ev­ery­thing on­line. With com­pany-owned stores, which es­tab­lished au­tomak­ers can­not open be­cause of fran­chise laws, Tesla can sell cars di­rectly to con­sumers in per­son or on­line.

While the tra­di­tional deal­er­ship model has not changed much, Hyundai is scram­bling to re­con­nect with Amer­i­can con­sumers as its prod­uct lineup strug­gles be­cause con­sumers no longer are in­ter­ested in its stal­wart pas­sen­ger cars.

De­spite strong marks on J.D. Power’s qual­ity rank­ings, Hyundai’s U.S. sales tum­bled 12.9% through Septem­ber, com­pared to a year ear­lier, as its mar­ket share plunged from 4.5% to 4%. Many Amer­i­cans are ditch­ing pas­sen­ger cars for crossovers and sport-util­ity ve­hi­cles.

The Korean au­tomaker is hop­ing to again ride a wave of mo­men­tum by tin­ker­ing with the tra­di­tional U.S. au­to­mo­tive sales model. In the heat of the Great Re­ces­sion in 2009, the com­pany fa­mously in­tro­duced the first it­er­a­tion of its Hyundai As­sur­ance pro­gram, al­low­ing any­one who lost their job to re­turn their ve­hi­cle for free.

With the new pro­gram, dubbed Hyundai Shop­per As­sur­ance, cus­tomers will be al­lowed to re­turn their ve­hi­cles for any rea­son for a full re­fund as long as there’s no dam­age and the ve­hi­cle hasn’t ac­cu­mu­lated more than 300 miles.

“I don’t know of an­other man­u­fac­turer’s deal­er­ships of­fer­ing a cool­ing-off pe­riod,” Kelley Blue Book an­a­lyst Re­becca Lind­land said.

But the of­fer comes with a cost for the ail­ing au­tomaker. “Keep in mind these are fran­chises, so Hyundai must be of­fer­ing some kind of com­pen­sa­tion to their dealer body for ve­hi­cles that are re­turned,” Lind­land said.

Hyundai said the new sales process would start in Mi­ami, Or­lando, Dal­las and Houston. It will hit all deal­ers by early 2018.

“We’ve lis­tened to our cus­tomers and they want con­ve­nience and sim­plic­ity when it comes to buy­ing a car,” Hyundai Amer­ica chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer Dean Evans said in a state­ment.

One sig­nif­i­cant change is a push to re­duce in-per­son pa­per­work by al­low­ing con­sumers to com­plete most of it on­line, in­clud­ing ap­ply­ing for fi­nanc­ing, es­ti­mat­ing pay­ments and re­ceiv­ing a value for a trade-in.

The new pro­gram also in­volves what Hyundai calls “trans­par­ent pric­ing,” in which the ac­tual price in­clud­ing in­cen­tives is posted to dealer web­sites. Other au­tomak­ers have tried sim­i­lar ver­sions of that strat­egy, in­clud­ing no-hag­gle pric­ing.

JAE C. HONG, AP

Hyundai’s U.S. mar­ket share has dropped to 4%.

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