Hyundai Motor Company was founded in 1967 as a branch of Hyundai Group, a large South Korean conglomerate (also known as a chaebol) that operated in several industries including construction and shipping.
Hyundai's first passenger car was a Ford Cortina built under license for the local market, but the automaker quickly hired engineers from troubled English manufacturer British Leyland to help design a four-door sedan christened Pony.
Daringly presented at the 1974 Turin Motor Show and launched a year later, the Pony stood out thanks to its Giugiaro-designed silhouette and its Mitsubishi-sourced 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine. It was later turned into a pickup truck and a station wagon, and it enabled Hyundai to set up shop in a host of foreign markets including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Argentina and Egypt.
Hyundai launched an all-new Pony in 1982 and started exporting cars to Canada a year later. Billed as an alternative to Russian-built Ladas, the Pony was one of the cheapest cars available new on the Canadian market and it briefly became the best-selling nameplate in spite of its sub-par build quality.
Motivated by the Pony's success on the Canadian market, Hyundai developed an engine that would comply with the United States' strict emissions norms and launched the hatchback under the name Excel in 1986. The lineup grew in 1989 with the addition of the Sonata, a mid-size sedan that borrowed its platform and most of its engines from the Mitsubishi Galant. Built in Canada, the Sonata was not particularly well-received by buyers in the United States.
Hyundai established a foothold in North America over the course of the 1990s by catering to buyers who were willing to sacrifice select creature comforts in order to get a new car for the same price as a late-model used car. Its foreign operations enabled it to survive the financial crisis that rocked Asia in 1997, but rival Kia fared much worse and was forced to file for bankruptcy. Hyundai entered a bidding war against Ford but it ultimately offered more money and walked away with a 51-percent stake in the ailing automaker.
Hyundai split from parent company Hyundai Group in 2003 and it subsequently worked on shaking its economy car image by focusing on design, quality and customer satisfaction. Today it offers a full lineup of cars ranging from the Accent sub-compact to the Equus, a large premium sedan ambitiously aimed at well-established luxury sedans from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Through divestment, Hyundai holds lowered its stake in Kia to just 32.8 percent but the two automakers share many major components including engines and platforms.