[THE INVESTOR] Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor has focused on developing high-performance cars in recent years, in an attempt to diminish its not-so-positive image of being a fast follower. And the strategy is working quite well, especially in Europe, the home of luxury carmakers more than a century old.
Sales of Hyundai’s first car under its high-performance brand N have exceeded market expectations. The carmaker has sold 3,777 units of the i30N between January and August this year, 35 percent more than what it had hoped for, according to the company.
“Our target this year is expected to double if sales go on at this pace,” an official said.
A total of 2,193 units or 58 percent of the i30N sales came from Germany where high-performance cars were born.
Thomas Schemera, executive vice president of Hyundai’s high-performance vehicle and motorsport division
The hatchback under the N brand debuted in October last year, two years after the company made it official that it would develop performance models under the N brand. The letter “N” stands for Namyang where its global R&D center is located and also Germany’s legendary Nurburgring race track, where the company has a test center.
Since 2012, Hyundai has been working on the development of high-performance models, in an effort to enhance its brand image, betting its future on high-functioning vehicles amid fierce competition heightened by the invasion of tech companies into the auto industry.
The project has been led by Albert Biermann, a former BMW senior engineer who led the M project before joining Hyundai in 2014.
Although it was a late starter, Hyundai has added its own characteristics to the project by creating high-functioning vehicles for the mass market.
Sales of high performance cars are just a tiny part of Hyundai’s global operations, which sells around 8 million vehicles a year. But high-performance cars make a huge impact in brand value because they inspire customers.
“The i30’s sales had been on a downturn but it started to rebound after the launch of the i30 N,“ said Thomas Schemera, executive vice president of Hyundai’s high-performance vehicle and motorsport division, in an interview with the Korean press during the 2018 Paris Motor Show.
“As a trickle-down effect, not only other N models but also other Hyundai cars in Europe will likely see improved sales.”
Hyundai’s motorsport division has also played a crucial part in promoting the N brand.
High-performance hatchbacks are competing for the top rank, with vehicles developed by Toyota at racing competitions like the World Rally Championship, the company added.
To further boost interest in track-race-capable cars, Hyundai plans to open a driving center in its home country next year.
“I am considering building a driving academy where customers are invited to experience high-performance cars,” said Schemera, without providing a specific timeline.
“I believe interacting with the customers and listening to their feedback are important. If it is to be built, Korea, which is our home market, will come first rather than Europe,” he said.
Instead of the i30N, Hyundai launched the Veloster N in July for its home market. The I30 Fastback N, unveiled at this week’s Paris Motor Show, is the third high-performance car developed under the N brand.
Building a driving academy first in South Korea, not Europe, would be significant, as it would enhance N’s identity as a Korean brand.
“(Opening Hyundai’s first driving center) is the most important part for our success. Germany is important to BMW, South Korea is to Hyundai, because the country is the company’s birthplace,” Schemera said, adding that the company might consider opening more centers in Europe and US.
The N project will continue, applying driving technology not just to hatchbacks but also to SUVs and green cars.
Hyundai is reviewing plans to manufacture high-performance electrified vehicles, such as electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen-powered cars.
By Cho Chung-un/The Korea Herald (email@example.com)