MANFRED’S BIG PLAN

The am­bi­tious action fig­ure at the helm of up­start Korean lux­ury brand, Genesis

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - PETER MCKAY

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.

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.”

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