Old Hyundai Excel print ad. Nobody's laughing at Hyundai today.

Japan's automakers know a threat when they see one, and based on their words, it sure isn't in Michigan. Motown is fleeting image in the Japanese carmakers' rearview mirrors, which they're now nervously checking for a budding South Korean juggernaut. Honda CEO Takanobu Ito minced no words when he told the Associated Press, "Hyundai is awesome. They are undoubtedly a threat because their products are cheap, and the quality is improving." The numbers seem to bear that out, as Hyundai and its corporate sibling, Kia, continue to show substantial sales chart improvements in key markets like the Europe and the US, where it continues to show strong growth while many other automakers look at double-digit shortfalls year-over-year. Nissan's Shiro Nakamura echoes Honda's Ito when it comes to identifying Japan's new boogeyman, "Hyundai is the biggest threat for the Japanese automakers. They have the technology, but they seem to have cheaper labour."

Hyundai, once basically a joke (we all remember such legendary products as the Excel, pictured above), is catching the Japanese by beating them at their own game -- offering a mix of value and quality that's hard for shoppers to ignore. Japan knows it needs to defend itself, too. After all, once upon a time, they were what Hyundai is now. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't too long ago that one could chuckle at Honda's initial foray into the States. We know how that turned out. Now you have to wonder how long it'll be until we see quotes from Hyundai's leadership talking about the Chinese the way Nissan and Japan talk about Hyundai.

[Source: The Canadian Press via TTAC)