Hyundai Excel (US)
Hyundai Excel (US)
Image by InSapphoWeTrust
The original Hyundai Excel (chassis code X1, 1985-1989) once was a very common sight in Los Angeles, but today it is very rare, and an example in as good a condition as this one is even rarer. The license plate and the red turn signals indicate that this is toward the tail end of the original Excel’s production run.
The Excel became Hyundai’s first US-market model in February 1986, and remained the sole model through the end of 1988. Thanks to its low price (as low as ,995 in 1986) and attractive body designed by Giugiaro Italdesign, it set sales records right away, selling 100,000 units after just seven months on the market, and over 200,000 per year in 1987 and 1988. But due to its cut-rate quality and engineering, as well as aggressive sales to subprime customers who could afford neither the payments nor the proper maintenance, many Excels came back repossessed, and by then they were in too poor a shape to be resold.
Between the atrocious reputation of the Excel and the rising South Korean labor costs, Hyundai products could not compete, and US sales nosedived; by 1998, the entire 4-model lineup of Hyundai was lucky to sell just 30,000 units in the US for the year. But between the super-long powertrain warranty from 1999 on, and improving product reliability, Hyundai turned its fortunes around. Today, Hyundai’s US lineup includes nearly a dozen models, including desirable luxury, sport, and utility models, and the Sonata cracked the 200,000-unit annual sales barrier in 2011.
I would have loved to park my own Genesis next to this Excel for a family portrait and a contrast, though I could not, as I was driving my backup Honda Accord on this particular day.
The 4-door sedan version of the original Excel was marketed within the South Korean domestic market under a different name, Presto. The larger bumpers and side reflectors, which were required for the Excel to comply with US safety requirements, were an option package on the Korean domestic Presto as well. European versions were sold under the old Pony name, and the US-spec bumpers and reflectors were not offered. The redesigned X2 Excel (1989-1994) dropped the Presto name for the Korean market, but kept its Pony name in Europe. The Accent/Verna has been the replacement for the Excel since 1995.