More than a decade ago, Hyundai launched a strategy to become a trailblazing brand worldwide. Originally part of a chaebol, or Korean industrial conglomerate, founded in 1947, Hyundai began making cars in the late Sixties. From the start, Hyundai Motor's goal was to copy Toyota's success in penetrating the American market. Hyundai finally began exporting cars to the United States in 1986 with the inexpensive Excel. But the car turned out to be unreliable, denting Hyundai's prospects. By the late Nineties, Hyundai began its long push to establish itself as a world-class innovator and brand. Manufacturing quality skyrocketed, helping the effort. So have industry "firsts" including a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty in the U.S. Hyundai sealed its mainstream status in America by opening an assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., in 2005; now more than half its vehicles are sold in the United States. As part of its continuing evolution, Hyundai also launched its first aspirational vehicles, a near-luxury Genesis sedan and coupe, in 2009. Hyundai's most successful marketing gambit ever was its "Assurance" program introduced in the midst of the U.S. recession in early 2009, offering to make consumers' car-loan payments on Hyundai vehicles if they lost their job. It helped Hyundai post the best major-brand performance in the U.S., on a relative basis, last year.