Automobiles

Hyundai spins off Genesis luxury brand, promises six new models by 2020

The goal is to compete with the world's top luxury offerings, and Hyundai's new sub-brand will be given substantial autonomy to deliver on that promise.

2015 Hyundai Genesis

The latest Hyundai Genesis sedan has proved quite popular with both the media and value-focused luxury buyers.

Josh Miller/CNET

Hyundai has announced that it will create its own luxury brand, Genesis, spinning it off from the rest of the automaker's lineup. The new Genesis brand aims to have six new vehicles on the road by 2020, as it attempts to "compete with the world's most renowned car brands."

This split has been rumored among industry watchers for many years now, and Hyundai will hardly be alone in developing a dedicated sub-brand for its premium offerings. Honda kickstarted the two-channel strategy with Acura in 1986, and in 1989, Toyota followed with Lexus and Nissan chimed in with Infiniti. Genesis is expected to compete directly with these luxury Asian marques.

Currently, Hyundai sells two Genesis vehicles, a luxury sedan and a sporty coupe. The coupe is at the end of its lifecycle, but the latest Genesis sedan is only two model years old. Hyundai gave hints about expanding the Genesis brand back in the summer, when it debuted the Vision G Concept, which looked startlingly like a Genesis sedan, albeit in large-coupe form.

To give the Genesis its own solid ground on which to stand, Hyundai will give its new baby a significant amount of autonomy. It will receive its own emblem (similar to the winged badge on current Genesis models), a separate customer service experience and its own design studio helmed by former Bentley and Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke.

Hyundai already treats the Genesis differently in its showrooms, providing specialized staff to give luxury-car buyers a more personalized encounter. In the past, it's surprised the industry by providing home pickup and dropoff services to owners of its range-topping Equus sedan (which is likely to be rebranded as a Genesis model), as well as including its owner's manual on an iPad. Hyundai already knows its way around outside-the-box luxury thinking.

That sort of approach will be key to separating itself from the crowd. "If that latest Genesis is any indication of what Hyundai can do, it definitely has the chops to branch into that luxury market," said Dave Sullivan, product analysis manager for auto-industry analyst AutoPacific. "Hyundai, with its lower [luxury] sales volume, should be able to do something unique and different for customers, which is what will differentiate Genesis from other brands. The company will be able to do something that people aren't accustomed to with a premium marque."

In a statement, Hyundai made sure to note that there are things that Genesis will do differently. Namely, the brand will "distance itself from the traditional technological overload of brand-focused competitors."

However, it's taking one direction other luxury automakers like BMW, Cadillac and Infiniti have embraced -- an alphanumeric naming structure. Expect names like G90 and G80 to appear on brochures and advertisements in the coming years.

Hyundai will market Genesis in four markets initially -- Korea, China, the Middle East and the United States. Europe and other parts of Asia will come after that.

Genesis' dealership strategy remains unclear -- it's not known if the marque will spawn its own dedicated showrooms or continue to exist as separate square footage in existing Hyundai dealerships. Hyundai did not immediately return a request for comment.