A spate of Hyundai computer thefts - including a break-in and a truck hijacking - has sent accusations flying in all directions in Australia's Hyundai channel.
NSW police report that a white Isuzu truck was hijacked in Fairfield about midday on 17 March -- St Patrick's Day -- en route from a Bankstown warehouse to Wetherill Park. The driver was forced at gunpoint to drive to another location and leave the truck in the possession of the "four men of Asian appearance" that appeared to be involved, a police report said.
The truck -- which was later recovered, empty, in a public street -- had been transporting 680 Hyundai ImageQuest P571 notebooks worth some $1 million in total, the report said.
Since then, allegations have been flying thick and fast, mainly around the reported owner of the warehouse, reseller Global Trading Industries (GTI), and that reseller's Hyundai notebooks assembler, Rhodes-based PC-Club Australia.
PC-Club Australia has reported that $60,000-worth of hardware -- including complete notebooks -- were stolen from its own warehouse the following weekend.
But in a latest twist to the plot, Australia's official Hyundai ImageQuest agent, South Australia-based Jackar Holdings, has hit out at newcomer rival Hyundai International, which released a statement 1 April implying that the stolen notebooks were not legitimate Hyundai product.
Ed Reynolds, chairman of Jackar Holdings, has alleged that Hyundai International is trying to steal customers from Jackar's Hyundai distributors locally, such as Hyundai MultiCAV and Hyundai Digital.
Hyundai International may be trying to take advantage of the flap over the thefts to promote itself as the official source for Hyundai product above its rivals, he said.
"We've been growing at 100 percent a year," Reynolds said.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) documents reveal that Hyundai International was set up in November 2003.
"[Hyundai ImageQuest] had a company based in London (UK) called Hyundai MultiCAV Europe and that company was run by a chap named Robert Kim. Kim originally had the rights to sell Hyundai's PC products and to license the name in products for the UK, Europe and Australasia," Reynolds said.
He said Hyundai MultiCAV in London -- now known as Hyundai Digital there -- had given Jackar Holdings the right to distribute Hyundai gear in Australasia about two years ago. Since then, Hyundai's sales in Europe had more or less collapsed, he said.
"Robert has now planted himself in Sydney," Reynolds said. "What we understand is that the rights may have been taken away from Robert's company [in Europe] and he's been left with the rights just for Australasia."
Hyundai International's release had claimed the stolen notebooks were grey imports. Reynolds said that was indeed likely.
"There's been a lot of misinformation, but that's not to say there's not something a bit odd about what's happened," he said.
PC-Club Australia, while a legitimate assembler for Hyundai Digital, had not made any recent order with Hyundai Digital here for components for anything like 700-odd ImageQuest notebooks, he said.
Jackar Holdings was pursuing enquiries with Hyundai ImageQuest in South Korea and with major Chinese factory Clevo -- which supplies multiple vendors, including Hyundai ImageQuest and whitebox -- as to the likely source of the stolen notebooks.
"They make hundreds of thousands of notebooks," Reynolds said.
In the police report, Fairfield-based Detective Sergeant Gordon Bullock said: "The large majority of the computers have a serial number commencing with NCP5713E or NKP5713E and an additional five digits."
Reynolds said the P571 notebooks said to have NKP5713E on them would actually have NKP5713K.
However, related claims made in the Hyundai International release were mistaken, Reynolds pointed out, as it had confused serial numbers with warranty sticker numbers.
Every legitimate Hyundai product has both serial numbers and numbers related to its warranty, which are different.
Media reports based on that release have suggested that customers need to watch out for Hyundai notebook computers with the serial numbers NCP5713E or NKP5713E because "authentic" Hyundai products carry a six-digit number preceded by the letters HY, followed by an 1800 phone number.
However, Reynolds confirmed that notebooks with the serial numbers NCP5713E or NKP5713E could well be kosher. Authentic product would have both that serial number and the warranty sticker number.
Nothing in the police reports had suggested that the stolen Hyundai products did not have both those numbers, he pointed out.
"I think they got a bit confused," Reynolds said.
Robert Kim, head of Hyundai International, confirmed Reynolds' story but said he had no intention of taking business from Jackar Holdings. Instead, Hyundai International would concentrate on products such as set-up boxes and navigation devices -- not PCs, he said.
"We have discussed the market with our agent in Australia and we have a different product set," Kim said. "There's no point in starting a company with the same things ... If I did that, maybe I'm insane."
Hyundai International was "not really" any threat to Hyundai Digital, he said.
He had no further evidence that confirmed whether the stolen ImageQuest notebooks were parallel imports. However, Kim thought it was likely -- based on the same evidence that Reynolds had given -- and agreed they could therefore also possibly be counterfeits.
"What I suspect is that they are counterfeits. If that is the case, then we will have to do something," Kim said. "I was surprised by the story -- it sounds like something out of the movies!"
David Lee, managing director at PC-Club Australia, had at the time of writing not replied to several phone messages left for him.
Meanwhile, GTI this week has been putting callers to its new customer service phone number on hold for an hour or more. A huge marketing campaign -- including full-colour advertisements in mass market publications -- around the Hyundai notebooks had just started at GTI at the time of the thefts.
Last week, both GTI phone numbers had been disconnected, and its office in Bankstown reportedly boarded up.
A NSW police investigation into both thefts and one by Fair Trading into the parallel importing-related issue surrounding the notebooks was continuing at press time.