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> Hyundai looking to improve it's performance cred
elantragt
post Jun 14 2015, 06:26 PM
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June 13, 2015 - 11:48 am ET

Over the last 25 years, Hyun-dai Motor Co. has transformed itself from an also-ran purveyor of lackluster econoboxes into a stylish leader in high-tech, high-quality cars.

Yet one area in which the South Korean giant has yet to match, let alone surpass, its U.S., European and Japanese rivals is ride and feel. Now, Hyundai is bearing down on that challenge.

For the last three years, a team of select engineers at Hyun-dai’s sprawling Namyang technical center outside Seoul has been toiling on a project to spice up the brand’s ho-hum performance.

Its mission: Develop a toolbox of technologies that can be deployed in production vehicles as early as 2017 to zest up handling and performance, engineers say. They are looking at across-the-board changes that encompass lightweighting, improved rigidity and lower centers of gravity.

As they tinker with the new technologies, they are funneling them into a series of concept cars that serve as rolling laboratories for engineering better Hyundai road cars.

Their efforts are just one part of a palpable performance push sweeping the company.

Hyundai recently rebooted motorsports activities by entering the World Rally Championship. It brought in Lotus engineers to help Hyundai’s engineers in Korea tune the redesigned Genesis to satisfy American and European expectations for driving feel. It also opened a European technical center for testing cars on Germany’s famed Nurburgring race circuit.

The aspiring Korean brand is even mulling its own “N” performance subbrand.

And to orchestrate it all, Hyundai poached BMW AG veteran Albert Biermann, former chief engineer of the German luxury brand’s M performance unit. Biermann started April 1 as an executive vice president, charged with injecting BMW magic into Hyundai’s ride and handling.

If Hyundai can replicate BMW’s successful M formula, it will pose a big challenge to competitors. But migrating those qualities from the top-shelf Genesis to more-mainstream models won’t be easy for a young brand with scant racing heritage and one that only developed its first proprietary engine in 1991.

“They have steadily improved their content, technology and design,” said Eric Lyman, main industry analyst at TrueCar Inc. “The next phase of the brand’s transformation will come down to product execution, including ride, handling and performance.”

Biermann’s arrival could be a tipping point. Design at Hyundai and its Kia sibling brand took a huge leap forward when Hyundai Motor Group hired Peter Schreyer, another German ace, from Audi AG in 2006. Biermann will be the group’s No. 2-ranked foreign executive after Schreyer.

Hyundai entered its “next phase” in 2012, when the carmaker established its High Performance Vehicle Development Center at Namyang. In fact, the N branding used on Hyundai’s i20 World Rally car and earmarked for future high-performance vehicles stands for the N in Namyang.

RM15 changes, challenges

The Namyang team’s latest creation debuted at April’s Seoul Motor Show as the RM15 high-performance coupe concept. Outside, it uses the familiar sheet metal of the Veloster sporty hatch.

But other than the styling, just about everything is different, starting with the RM, which stands for “racing midship.” Hyundai has never made a midship-engined production car. But engineers are using the layout in the concept series to nail down a better formula for weight distribution.

“We faced challenges with everything on this car except the exterior design,” Kim Dae Seung, engineer in charge of lightweight body development for the RM15, said on the sidelines of the Seoul show. “With this, we are accumulating ideas that will be utilized in production vehicles.”

This year’s car is the second in the series. The first, dubbed simply the RM, was shown at last year’s Busan Motor Show. The next, possibly an RM16, is expected to arrivein 2016.

The RM15 gets a 2.0-liter, direct-injection turbocharged gasoline engine wrapped in an aluminum frame. The roof and hood panels are carbon fiber, while the doors are lightweight, high-tensile steel. The engine generates 296 hp, doing 0 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds.

The RM projects were a challenge from the start — beginning with the raw materials.

A key goal, engineers say, is reducing the weight and increasing the rigidity of Hyundai’s cars. This required delving into slightly more exotic materials, such as aluminum and carbon fiber.

By using the new materials, engineers were able to shave 430 pounds from an all-steel architecture and reduce the RM15’s weight to 2,778 pounds.

Adequate, but …

But simply finding high-quality suppliers for the materials in South Korea was a challenge, Kim said. His team had to develop the components from scratch. They fastened them into an aluminum frame and carbon-fiber body panel architecture Hyundai dubs the hybrid lightweight body structure, or HLBS. The exercise exposed a crucial Achilles’ heel of the Korean carmaker.

“We were not building just one car,” Kim said. “We had to build up an entire supply chain.”

Another weakness Hyundai wants to address is road manners. Americans and Europeans tend to want a firmer, more precise steering feel than South Korean drivers, U.S. executives and engineers at Hyundai say. This is partly cultural, but partly because driving on high-speed highways is far more commonplace in the U.S. and Europe than in densely populated South Korea.

Hyundai is competent but blah when it comes to sportiness and handling, said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. Hyundai matches mass-market brands such as Chevrolet, Subaru and Toyota but trails other mainstream rivals including Ford, Honda and Mazda, he said.

“Most models lean more than some competitors when driven aggressively, and the brand’s tire choices are typically more focused on durability and ride quality than traction and handling,” Brauer said. “Steering feel is also right in the mainstream for any given vehicle segment, which means fully adequate but not particularly engaging or inspiring from a performance standpoint.”

Hyundai is aware of such critiques, said Hwang Injin, senior research engineer at the High Performance Vehicle Development Center and head of testing for RM15 ride and handling.

A top priority is damping excessive yaw movement in Hyundai’s cars, Hwang said. Yaw is the unwanted wavering to the left and right that can cause a car to deviate from a straight course.

“Body rigidity is the most important foundation for high performance,” Hwang said.

Hyundai also aims to improve handling by lowering the center of gravity of its cars.

The center of gravity in the RM15 is 19 inches above the road. That compares with around 22 inches in a typical Hyundai production car, Hwang said.

Subbrand

Hyundai still is considering the launch of an N-series performance subbrand. It already uses N as the insignia for its World Rally car, but it is mum on a commercialization schedule.

Still, the engineers said Hyundai aims to deploy RM technologies in a high-performance production car due around late 2017. They declined to give further details.

To be sure, some of the advances already have made it to showrooms.

The second-generation Genesis sedan, which went on sale in 2014, made big strides in noise, vibration and harshness. It added lightweight parts such as aluminum shock-absorber housings. And by using 38 percent more high-strength steel than in the first generation, engineers increased body rigidity. They also added a new all-wheel-drive system and multilink rear suspension.

Analysts say the improvements are slowly trickling throughout the brand’s lineup.

“Some models have shown significant gains in terms of delivering a more refined ride quality,” said Ed Hellwig, Edmunds.com executive editor. “The 2015 Sonata is a good example. Its ride is firm but not uncomfortable. The steering is precise and predictable and yet not artificially heavy.”

It’s a sign of things to come, promises Park Joonwoo, a brand strategy manager at the High Performance Vehicle Development Center: “We’re going to communicate our high-performance story very continuously from now on.”

source: http://www.autonews.com/article/20150613/OEM06/150619930/hyundai-wants-to-prove-performance-cred


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mlumz
post Jun 14 2015, 07:35 PM
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This sounds amazing. Can't wait to see what comes up.


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elantragt
post Jun 14 2015, 09:22 PM
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I think the key is the BMW guy Biermann they hired to improve the handling and ride.


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mlumz
post Jun 14 2015, 09:48 PM
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That's the one complaint I hate is that Asian cars lack a lot of the handling that German cars have.


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