Hyundai seeks to drive fans wild with high-performance line

The Hyundai N50 is presented during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany on Sept 15, 2015.
The Hyundai N50 is presented during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany on Sept 15, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - Hyundai Motor plans to begin selling a high-performance line in 2017 to burnish its reputation amid flagging sales, helmed by the M Series chief engineer hired from BMW.

Led by Albert Biermann, who joined the company from BMW in April, the focus on vehicle performance comes two years after chairman Chung Mong-Koo promoted Peter Schreyer to oversee design at both Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors. The carmaker is showcasing three models from its N-brand high- performance line this week at the Frankfurt International Motor Show.

The push to elevate performance comes as South Korea's largest carmaker, with its lineup of mostly sedans, misses out on the surge in demand globally for sport utility vehicles and crossovers. It's also a continuation of the carmaker's years of efforts to upgrade its image as a maker of cheap, utilitarian cars.

"The next step is to increase the performance and to give our cars, when you drive the car, a little bit more of a driving character," Mr Biermann, 58, told reporters last week. "We are really going for the established high-performance brands and want to compete with them."

Hyundai plans to improve and refine everything from the clutch paddle to the suspension when building N-brand vehicles to "change the character of the car," Mr Biermann said. The automaker is considering development of a new engine for the N series and may offer models in different segments, including SUVs, he said. Hyundai may also make hybrid N models, he said.

In Frankfurt this week, Hyundai will show a preview of the latest World Rally Championship challenger, based on the new generation i20. The second and third models will be the RM15 concept and the N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo concept, developed for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation racing game.

Hyundai shares rose 2.6 per cent to 160,500 won as of 9:37 am in Seoul trading, heading for its highest close since May 22. The benchmark Kospi index rose 1.2 pe rcent.

Although the N series will target a niche market of car enthusiasts, the technology will be incorporated into other Hyundai vehicles, enhancing the performance of the entire lineup, Mr Biermann said.

"Once they find out how robust and reliable our high- performance cars are on the race track, they will buy our car," said Mr Biermann, who spent more than three decades at BMW before joining Hyundai. "We will make some wild boys and girls at Hyundai N."