Wilhite to Exit Hyundai

LOS ANGELES Hyundai Motor America has confirmed COO Steve Wilhite is leaving the company today.

The longtime automotive marketing executive who previously worked for Nissan and Volkswagen could not be reached.

“Steve has made many contributions during his time at Hyundai Motor America. We wish him the best in his future endeavors,” said Hyundai president and chief Executive officer Owen Koh, in a statement.

(Adweek.com initially reported that Wilhite would leave in a story posted earlier today.)

Wilhite instituted several major changes in his years at the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based automaker, including an agency review that ended last April. At that time the $600 million business moved from The Richards Group, an independent in Dallas, to Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, which just launched its first major campaign for the automaker.

“We’ve had a terrific relationship,” said Jeff Goodby, principal at Goodby, who stipulated that Wilhite had not made his plans official with the agency yet. “Obviously, he’s a great marketing guy, and we’ll miss him.” The agency broke new ads for the nameplate this month.

During the review process, former Richards Group executive Joel Ewanick was appointed vp, marketing of the company. Ewanick was unavailable to comment.

Hyundai spent slightly less than $600 million on domestic measured media in 2006 and $275 million through July 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Hyundai sales are flat through August at 325,000 units, according to Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

This story updates an item posted earlier today with client confirmation of Wilhite’s departure.