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Hyundai Elantra (1993-2001)

2007-03-22 14:41

Colin Mileman

Having started out as an unknown, and untrusted, entity in 1993, Hyundai rapidly gained popularity in SA, despite some hiccups along the way.

With a name that nobody could pronounce, the company had to generate interest and create a foothold in the local market. This was an extremely difficult task considering the heavily protectionist nature of the SA motor industry at the time where the local manufacturers ruled with an unyielding iron fist, and imports were extremely rare and equally pricey.

Under the direction of controversial Zimbabwean businessman Billy Rautenbach, Hyundai Motor Distributors was established in 1993 under the Wheels of Africa banner.

However, Hyundai immediately raised the ire of the local brands by taking advantage of an import loophole by bringing cars into the country via a specially built assembly plant in Botswana - a move that detractors claimed was designed to avoid SA's exorbitant import duties.

While many debated Hyundai's business ethics, the company certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons by offering extremely competitive pricing and very high standard specification levels on the first-generation Elantra, released in November 1993.

Even the base-level 1.6 GLS was equipped with the likes of air-conditioning, a cassette receiver, front electric windows and power steering for a starting price R56 706.

A limited dealer network and the buying public's circumspection regarding the mysterious South Korean brand meant that early sales weren't record-breaking by any means, but the high-value proposition meant that it didn't take long for a growing number of buyers to start testing the Eastern waters.

Hyundai stepped up its game notably with the second-generation Elantra in August 1995. The specification levels were again well above the industry norm, and Hyundai also pushed the boundaries in terms of safety equipment by including ABS brakes and a driver's airbag as standard on the top model.

The second generation Elantra was a far more convincing car in terms of overall refinement, build quality and performance. With consumer confidence growing on the back of broader dealer representation, sales started picking up dramatically.

To the total disgust of the established manufacturers, the Elantra 1.6 GLS and its smaller Accent 1.5 CS sibling were included as finalists in the 1996 Car of the Year competition.

The company continued to ruffle feathers when it started competing in the Stannic Group N production car championship, with the racing programme ultimately spawning the limited edition 1.6 GLi - a sporty offering with a lively 93 kW engine, lowered suspension and numerous detailed changes.

In the second half of 1998, the Elantra received a comprehensive facelift distinguished by a more aggressively detailed front end, revised tail lights and bumpers, new wheel trims and alloys, improved interior sound deadening and several other minor changes.

Under dark clouds of controversy and financial irregularities, Wheels of Africa, and its subsidiary Hyundai Automotive Distributors, was liquidated in January 2000 - a tragic process that left Hyundai owners stranded with no dealers, no service or parts and no claims to existing warranties and service contracts.

Sadly, it took until the second half of the year for Hyundai to get on the road to recovery, as the massive Imperial Motor Holdings group took over the brand and started progressively rebuilding the dealer network, parts supply and model range - and customer confidence.

The rather blunt third-generation Elantra arrived in 2001, but although it continues as a solid offering, it faces much more intense competition and a resulting lower profile.

Nevertheless, the Elantra was definitely a ground-breaking model in many respects, opening the way for a far more competitive South African automotive industry, and setting the groundwork for Hyundai to ultimately become a serious contender.


Peugeot 206 (2000-2007)

2007-03-13 11:04

Inside Wheels24

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