The Korean automaker Hyundai began selling cars in the U.S. in 1986. The children whose parents bought those first-off-the-boat vehicles are now young adults, meaning that the effects of growing up in a Hyundai-owning household are just now becoming evident.
“Hyundai’s later cars have gotten a lot better, but those first Excels from the mid- to late ’80s were pretty bad,” says Penny Fairmount, a professor of transportation and human development at Belmont University. “And to a child, riding around day after day in a crappy vehicle can take a psychological toll.”
Fairmount notes that in contrast to other bad cars from the era, such as Yugos and Daihatsus, which had relatively few owners, Hyundai was popular from the beginning.
“That means many more childhood survivors of parental Hyundai ownership,” she says.
One of those survivors is Zach Keckley, who founded a support group of young adults who grew up in Hyundai-owning homes. The group meets monthly at Brentwood United Methodist Church.
“I remember the cool kids’ parents were in Honda Accords or Toyota Camrys, and then we’d roll up in our Hyundai Excel with the smoking tailpipe and cracked windshield—and I was only six months old at the time,” he says. “It takes a while to get over that feeling. I’m just now coming to grips with it.”
Professor Fairmount says the current Hyundai group is a successor in spirit to groups formed in Nashville in the mid-1970s to help children who grew up riding around in Edsels and Studebakers.
“Those kids were dealing with the same issues,” she says. “All the other kids were in Chevy Impalas or Ford Fairlanes, and then here they would come up to school or a ball game in some deeply lacking vehicle, like a Studebaker. Adults judge each other by their cars, and so do kids. It happened in the past, and it will happen in the future,” she says.
“I think in 20 years, the children of Hummer owners will be reaching out for some serious help.”