Hyundai has presented concept cars using technology from a new high-performance sub-brand, N, as it attempts to stem a slide in mainstream sales.
The South Korean firm made its name producing value-for-money vehicles, but has slid to six straight falls in quarterly profits on weak sales of the mass-market sedans which fuelled its rise.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show yesterday, Hyundai showed off several concept and rally cars featuring new powertrains and slick handling that will eventually make their way into commercially available vehicles from its new "N" sub-brand.
The marque is named for German race track Nurburgring and its own Namyang research and development centre. The drive to develop more high-performance technology is being led by a 30-year veteran engineer poached from Germany's BMW.
"Hyundai doesn't stand for high-performance car - not yet," said Albert Biermann, the 58-year-old former chief engineer for BMW's "M" sports car brand at a recent group interview at Hyundai's Namyang facility just outside Seoul. "This will change."
Biermann joined Hyundai in April to head up development of high-performance models at Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors, where fellow German Peter Schreyer acts as design chief for both brands. "There's a clear commitment and a plan to develop and sell a high-performance car," he added.
Biermann said he expects Hyundai will start selling its first car under the sub-brand within two years, with a target audience that goes beyond a niche market, though Hyundai officials would not disclose financial targets, investment, pricing or strategy details for N sports car models.
"We will perform on the competitive level, but we will try to make these cars available for the wider customer base," said Biermann.
While developing a reputable high-performance brand will take Hyundai time, Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering at Daelim University, said it was a positive long-term move for the automaker.
"Hyundai will lag behind the global auto industry if it does not develop high-performance and eco-friendly technology," he said.