Hyundai Goes Into Play

LOS ANGELES Hyundai Motor America confirmed today it has split with independent The Richards Group and placed its ad account in review.

The automaker, which spent close to $600 million last year in U.S. measured media, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, said it would consider a select group of agencies predetermined by COO Steve Wilhite and CMO Joel Ewanick.

The move to review the assignment comes about two weeks after Ewanick, formerly Richards’ director of brand planning, joined the Hyundai management team.

Dallas-based Richards declined an invitation to defend.

“We’ve been extremely proud of relationship in the past five years,” said Richards’ Dale Hruby, the agency principal in charge Hyundai. “We’ve helped them achieve record sales and market-share increases in the U.S. market and achieve dramatic increases in key brand measures. We’re proud of the work we’ve done.”

Hruby said the agency found it “extremely difficult” to work with “seven different key leaders in five years at Hyundai.”

Hruby said the agency does not anticipate any immediate layoffs. “We have a vibrant new business pipeline,” he said.

There is no outside consultant guiding the review process.

No timetable has been determined, but the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based client said it looks to move quickly through the process.

Sales were flat in 2006 at 456,000 units, and down 8 percent in January 2007 compared to the first month of the previous year, according to Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif.