Interview: Hyundai's Albert Biermann and SS Kim on the Venue SUV, N performance division and EVs in India
Along the sidelines of the launch of the Hyundai Venue SUV, we caught up with Albert Biermann, Hyundai global R and D head, and SS Kim, Hyundai India's MD and CEO. Here are their insights on topics ranging from the Venue to EVs and Hyundai's N performance division.
Bertrand D'Souza: What's the whole experience been like? Having moved from BMW, making very European-spec cars, to a very SE Asian market, and cars that have wider diversity?
Albert Biermann: It's very exciting and very challenging. The scope of experience is so much wider. I'm still working on high-performance cars with the Hyundai N brand. Yeah, but working on cars for India like the Santro or working on the Genesis G90 luxury sedan or the G70 sport sedan, I mean the variety of product is just great. It's a very enriching experience for me. The scope of cars, but much more than that to experience Korean culture in the company and also living in Korea for over four years, is an experience I would not like to miss. It's so enriching for my life, and I'm really happy doing what I do today.
BD: So how different do you feel? Hyundai for a very long time has been trying to expand its global programs, to attract more European and American consumers? How much difference have you seen between these two cultures, especially in automotive terms? Between European-made cars and Korean-made cars.
AB: From the outcome of what the car does, if you take European cars, there's no big deal. The storytelling is a little bit different, the marketing. But with the driving experience, Korean cars are also fun to drive. I mean if I take an i30 N, its very competitive. But we don't go by figures like 0 to 100 or the top speed, we go by heartbeats. I think we can challenge many high-performance cars in Europe with the heartbeat of an N car.
BD: With the N cars, it's a very passionate experience. So when does Hyundai intend on bringing the N division to India? There are lots of consumers interested in performance cars here.
Kim: I got the same question from another journalist today and my answer, we are studying the feasibility of bringing the N lineup to India. We see some demand and customer growth in India, they are very aspirational and quite young and progressive. I believe that in a few years we could launch the N lineup here.
BD: Can you give us a more accurate time-frame for this? Is it one, three or five years away?
I would say within three years,
BD: Small cars especially, the Hyundai Venue being in focus today, is possibly the most compact car you've worked on in this space. What are the challenges you faced developing a car of this sort?
We have quite a lot of experience in small cars, and they are very competitive. If you look at the i10, i20, even in Europe those cars are very competitive. They're winning comparison tests with European competitors, So we are very strong in small cars, probably also because we are in India for such a long time. I think Indian customers educate us very well. Value-for-many has to be excellent, long-term quality has to be good. Indian people expect a car to last much, much longer than other markets. I think all these lessons we've taken from India, we can use them very well in other markets.
BD: Do you believe there is a synergy between Indian consumer requirements and European requirements?
I think Indian customers are much more challenging, in VFM, long-term quality. In Europe, because of different driving patterns, driving performance is a different story. But we also deliver driving performance to India without any problems.
BD: So the 1.0-litre turbo-petrol, along with the dual-clutch automatic transmission, over the last few years turbo-petrols have come back into the limelight. What kind of a future do you see for turbo-petrol globally?
AB: Those engines are very competitive, not just here but in other markets too. Especially the 1.0-litre three cylinders. You have to drive that car, it has this special character when you accelerate. So I like it a lot. It sounds very sporty and powerful, in combination with the seven-speed DCT, it's a wonderful powertrain. So I see a good future for such engines. Maybe at some point, we need to put the mild-hybrid on it, to make it even more.
BD: We are slowly getting into fuel regulations now. How will that affect the feel and character of cars going into the future? You will have to put more fuel-efficient cars on the road, more cars that comply with ever more stringent emission norms. Does that strangle petrol or diesel engines? More petrol engines, given the current focus.
Yeah sooner or later, the high-revving, sporty character of petrol engines may degrade, to keep up with norms. We also found ways to compensate for the particulate filter in the N cars, so its a matter of how much effort you can put into it. We put a lot of effort into our cars.
BD: The Indian government has quite a strong push in moving from IC engines to electric cars, kind of skipping the whole hybridisation program. Do you think that is a good move, or do you think it is essential for any developing nation to move in that step-by-step manner.?
AB: You don't need to necessarily go to the hybrids. If you have the infrastructure out there, and if you give some subsidies, more expensive BEV tech would be available to customers. But in India, we don't see that for the private customers and we don't see that infrastructure. The fleet business may be a different story, and that also can contribute very well to the environmental situation.
BD: Mr Kim, you have the Kona coming up next month, which is the EV. Do you believe India is prepared this time for an electric car program of that sort?
The Indian government strongly supports electrification but the reality is that the infrastructure isn't ready and the government doesn't provide any subsidy to the private customer. Under that situation, as an OEM, it will be very difficult for us to secure some market and demand in the private segment. But like Bierman said, the fleet segments might have some opportunities.
BD: Do you believe it is an opportunity in the current environment? Will be a positive step in introducing an EV? Will it take the entire process ahead or will it lead to some negative sentiment, because you don't have the infrastructure to support that kind of a car?
Kim: It's 50/50. I think the Indian government will do something eventually in this regard. In terms of infrastructure, and private owners. Obviously, there are issues there. So you know, For the time being, the FAME2, might not cover those issues and we will find ourselves in atypical solution. But in the long run, some solution should come up
AB: And you have to think about, the Kona Ev is really a driving machine. Very powerful acceleration. At the traffic light, you'll beat everyone.
BD: Yeah in fact, I recently drove the Kia Soul EV, and it was the first time I actually got an opportunity to drive an electric car in road conditions. I think its a car, more than the acceleration and performance, I think its the luxury of having a quiet car in something that small, which makes it far more pleasurable. I think that's going to be one of the big characteristics for EVs
AB: If they have a home where they can put the wall box to charge the Kona EV, they can enjoy it every day. So maybe there can be customers out there, once they discover the sportiness of the Kona EV, they might go for it.
BD: Mechanically do you see any challenges with EVs in terms of development? It's a single motor, fewer moving parts. How do you build the character of an EV? When you had ICE, you could go from a four to a six cylinder, to a V8.
I mean for the mainstream cars, we aren't focusing much on this. But we are also working on concept cars for high-performance N EVs. There is a different story. We are really thinking of how we can bring the excitement of an N performance car into an EV. TRhere we think about how to get that excitement. In the Kona, it's just the sheer power, the instant acceleration, Of course, we have tuned it in a way to make it capable and fun to drive. Very satisfying.
Thank you so much for talking to us. That all the time we have. All the best
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