Hyundai has turned to a former Chrysler and Toyota plant manager to head its new Genesis luxury brand in the U.S.
Erwin Raphael, 49, takes over as Genesis' first general manager on March 1. He will direct the summer launch of the Genesis G90, which replaces the Hyundai Equus flagship sedan. It will be closely followed by a lightly updated version of the Hyundai Genesis, renamed the Genesis G80 for the 2017 model year.
CEO Dave Zuchowski said Raphael's "product knowledge, broad dealer experience and skill at flawless execution" will be tested in launching the brand.
Rather than awarding franchises for stand-alone Genesis dealerships, Hyun-dai has crafted a plan for a hybrid retail strategy that uses existing Hyundai dealerships for at least the next few years.
Each of Hyundai's 837 U.S. dealerships will be permitted to sell the Genesis G80 until its next full redesign, while the 405 dealerships with covenants to sell the top-of-the-line Equus also will be allowed to sell the G90.
Hyundai plans to grow the Genesis lineup to six models by 2020. One of Raphael's main responsibilities will be managing a dealer network through facility upgrades -- either showrooms within existing dealerships or new stand-alone showrooms.
Zuchowski told Automotive News in January that he aims to sell 90,000 Genesis-brand vehicles annually in the United States by 2020.
He said he sees 325 dealers as the ideal number, with the ranks thinning as the covenant for selling luxury cars grows stricter.
Raphael ran Chrysler's Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit from 2002 to 2006 and later was Chrysler's director of corporate quality before joining Hyundai Motor America in 2010 as head of product quality and service engineering. He was named general manager of Hyundai's Western region in 2014.
Earlier in his career he was an assistant general manager at Toyota's Princeton, Ind., assembly plant.
With Raphael's elevation to Genesis chief, Hyundai Motor America promoted Kimberly Walker, the company's director of retail process and sales satisfaction, to general manager of the Western region, which includes 165 dealerships in 12 states.