Hyundai Motor Co. has called its former top North American executive Kyung Soo "Kenny" Lee back to South Korea, where he will serve as an adviser to the company, Automotive News is reporting.
Kenny Lee had been serving as president and chief executive of Hyundai Motor America since September 2017, until this summer when he was began reporting to William Lee, after the company reorganized its North American operations. William Lee was named president and chief executive of the new entity Hyundai Motor North American Headquarters business unit based in Fountain Valley, Calif.
On Oct. 30, Hyundai appointed William Lee to replace Kenny Lee as interim president and chief executive of Hyundai Motor America. The company has begun a search of a permanent replacement.
During a presentation in late August in Utah, William Lee told journalists the new entity would have more autonomy over product strategy, production, sales, and marketing from its Korean parent.
William Lee has been with Hyundai for 35 years. Prior to his current role, he served as head of Hyundai Motor Brazil. He has also spent time in charge of international sales based in Seoul.
The move comes as Hyundai and Kia are facing increasing pressure from the U.S. Senate to address reports about engine fires in some of its vehicles. The Center for Auto Safety has called for a recall of almost 3 million vehicles, and the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a Nov. 14 hearing on the matter. The committee has invited the North American CEOs of Hyundai and Kia to testify.
Kenny Lee had been overseeing Hyundai's North American operations following the company's dismissal of Dave Zuchowski in December 2016 for failing to meet sales goals. Jerry Flannery had been the interim head.
Hyundai has also created separate units for its mobility and hydrogen fuel cell business that were announced on Oct. 29. Hyundai partnered with Chinese research-and-development institute BTIRDI to create the Hydrogen Energy Fund with a goal to raise $100 million. The funds would be invested in startups that are developing innovative hydrogen technologies, according to a release.