It’s a pretty impressive performance. From your first car in 1967 – a chopped about Ford Cortina – to the world’s fifth largest car maker in just 40 years.

Hyundai-Kia’s achievement is eye-brow-raising. Steaming past Peugeot-Citroen, Nissan and even Honda to a total of 3,961,629 car sales last year.

And to us Brits, it’s ironic that the company’s first home-grown model – the angular 1975 Pony hatchback – was built under the guidance of ex-British Leyland boss George Turnbill, and had more than a little Morris Marina in its DNA.

Despite that unpromising start, Hyundai-Kia (in 1998, it absorbed Kia after the break-neck expansion of the South Korean economy triggered a financial meltdown) is now a product development powerhouse, taking advantage of Korea’s enviable home-grown automotive engineering talent. Indeed, Korean-based General Motors-DAT is now responsible  for engineering the next-generation Vauxhall Corsa family. 

Hyundai-Kia has also moved rapidly to shift production to local markets and now has facilities in eastern Europe, China, India and the US. Mass-producing cars in the local currency zone is something other carmakers – including VW which is searching for a new US factory site – are only now seriously latching on to as the only way to secure profits in the face of global currency fluctuations.

Amazingly, Hyundai only began selling cars in the US in 1986, and was long considered something of joke. Today they are regarded in the US as some of the most reliable and safest cars on the market.

And with sales in the US falling steeply last month (Ford was down 28 per cent and Chrysler down 35 per cent) Hyundai-Kia bucked the trend with a small sales increase.

And with a rear-drive executive car and coupe on the way, who would bet against Hyundai-Kia gaining a foothold in the market for serious driver’s cars?