Looking back at the past allows us to look back on the steps we have taken so far and establish a new future direction through this. Hyundai Motor Group decided to look back on its R&D history and achievements through
In particular, among the stories described in the book, the chapter that talks about establishing Hyundai’s technology and developing its models resonates a lot in the current era of electrification; The Hyundai Group’s leap forward into an advanced automobile manufacturer by securing its own technology and observing the process of developing it is indeed a valuable result. Continuing from Part 1, here is a biography of Hyundai’s technology acquisition process, focusing on those described in
Hyundai introduced the Pony Excel in 1985, developed as a global export strategic vehicle. Pony Excel is the successor to Pony, and was a compact car with features as excellent as its name, which implied ‘excellent’ performance and quality. Additionally, it had a front-wheel drive system in line with the global trend at the time. Pony Excel’s platform and powertrain were developed using Japanese technology, as was customary at the time. Hyundai’s vehicle design technology, developed through the development of Pony, Porter, and Stella, has led to a significant advancement in the perfection of Pony Excel; Since there was no propeller shaft to transmit power to the rear wheels, the interior space was spacious and even tall people could ride comfortably. In addition, the four-wheel independent suspension, previously housed only in luxury passenger cars, was applied to provide excellent ride comfort even on uneven roads, and the full door* design, which is unusual for a compact car, reduced the inflow of noise from the outside.
*Full door: A door structure that covers the sides of the vehicle body and part of the roof; When the door frame and body outer panel are integrated, less wind noise is introduced, increasing interior quietness.
Excellent safety also supported Pony Excel’s competitiveness; The wheel treads, which are wider than those of competing models, kept the body stable even when driving at high speeds, and the X-shaped brake hydraulic circuit was able to secure braking power without problems even if a problem occurred in either brake. Additionally, the fuel tank was placed in front of the spare tire storage space to reduce the possibility of fuel leakage in the event of a rear collision.
The aerodynamic design that minimized air resistance was also popular in both Korea and the global market - this was also Giugiaro’s achievement. Additionally, with a lighter body and improved engine performance, the Pony Excel consumed 20-30% less fuel than its predecessor, the Pony.
The biggest achievement Hyundai achieved through Pony Excel was its success in exporting to the United States. The U.S. market has long had the most stringent vehicle safety laws and emissions regulations in the world. Therefore, manufacturers exporting cars to the United States at the time were limited to a few European brands such as German brands and Japanese brands. Hyundai made every preparation to export the Pony Excel to the United States - it conducted extreme cold testing and comprehensive testing in North America, and established a U.S. technical research center to obtain certification for U.S. emissions regulations. As a result of these efforts, the Pony Excel passed the exhaust gas environmental certification of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January 1986 and became the first Korean car to be exported to the United States.
The export of Pony Excel to the United States proved that Hyundai’s technology at the time had reached a world-class level. In addition, this had a positive impact on Korea’s industry as a whole. Not only did the country break away from the developing country-style export structure centered on the textile industry, but it also promoted the advancement of our country’s technology to the world by selling automobiles, the crown jewel of the machinery industry, to the American market. Pony Excel also recorded encouraging results in sales volume, ranking first in annual sales of imported compact cars in the United States, with 263,610 units sold in 1987 alone, one year after it began exporting to the United States.
Hyundai launched the Excel compact car in 1989 to further solidify its sales lead in domestic and export markets. Excel is the successor to Pony Excel and carefully reflects the needs of American consumers; The standards for ride comfort, handling, and trailer installation tests were improved to match North American standards. In addition, it strengthened its competitiveness by being the first Korean compact car to house an MPi engine that injects fuel through electronic control. Thanks to the MPi engine that precisely controls fuel, it was able to achieve best-in-class acceleration performance.
One of the achievements made with the launch of Excel was in the field of design. Excel’s family look design, similar to the Sonata (Y2), was developed by Hyundai’s design office and boasted the latest streamlined style of the time, proving Hyundai’s design development capabilities. Excel also stood out in terms of safety, which American consumers consider important - it increased drivers’ attention by incorporating a seatbelt warning alert and a door open warning alert. Excel also topped its competitors in safety ratings in a 1991 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test. Excel, based on such excellent marketability, was the first single model in Korea to produce over 2 million units in July 1991, continuing the sales legend set by Pony Excel.
Hyundai planned to establish a mass production system and develop engines around the launch of Excel. In April 1988, a second factory was built in Ulsan with a capacity of 300,000 units, expanding production capacity to 750,000 units per year. However, when these measures could not accommodate the increasing number of orders, an additional third factory with a capacity of 350,000 units was built in September 1990, and the company entered the era of annual production of 1 million units. For reference, the 3rd factory (press and body) was a factory with the highest level of cutting-edge technology at the time, boasting an automation rate of over 90% and a localization rate of 90%.
In the 1980s, Hyundai, which developed a variety of unique models such as Pony2, Stella, and Pony Excel, made rapid progress in body design. However, in order to have the potential to compete with global automobile manufacturers, technological capabilities had to be improved in areas such as engines and transmissions. Accordingly, Hyundai launched the ‘Engine Development Department’ in September 1983 and began the ‘Alpha Project’ to develop engines for compact cars; Small cars were Hyundai’s flagship product at the time, and demand for engines was also the highest.
Project Alpha has played a critical role in Hyundai’s technology acquisition process; The engine development know-how and technology gained here continued to develop, resulting in the creation of numerous proprietary engines such as Beta, Delta, Gamma, Theta, and Lambda. The Alpha project carried out the basic concept design of the engine together with Ricardo, a British technology consulting firm. However, at that time, Korea’s level of processing, casting, and material technology was not sufficient, so it was difficult to immediately begin mass production using the technology developed with Ricardo.
Accordingly, Hyundai collected additional foreign technical data and searched for specific test contents and procedures needed for analysis, as well as improvement plans; About 300 engine prototypes and 150 test vehicles were made and taken to the hot climate of Arizona in the United States and the cold climate of Ontario, Canada. And in these places, its durability was verified through test runs of 4.2 million km, equivalent to the distance of circling the Earth 105 times. After numerous tests and three complete revisions, the result of the Alpha project, ‘Alpha Engine’, was released in 1991.
The Alpha engine is a cutting-edge engine that adopts 1.5L 3-valve MPi technology and was Hyundai’s achievement in the powertrain field. The Alpha engine also had excellent performance. The Scoupe’s acceleration time from 0 to 100 km/h with the Alpha engine (naturally aspirated) reached 10.4 seconds, 0.6 seconds faster than its Japanese competitor at the time. In addition, it achieved an efficiency of 20.2km/L when driving at 60km/h, surpassing global competitors’ record of 19.4km/L. The technological growth gained from the development of the Alpha engine is not limited to the engine field, but has further raised the technological level of each division of Hyundai; During the development of the Alpha engine, the level of technology in all fields, including casting, processing, and machining, has improved significantly.
The Accent, launched in 1994, was the first car in which Hyundai completed its core components, including design, engine, transmission, and platform, using only its own technology. It was also the first domestic car to be equipped with a self-developed engine on a self-developed platform, and served as an opportunity to promote Hyundai’s development capabilities at home and abroad. Above all, the fact that Hyundai’s technological innovations continued from the Pony bore fruit in its direct successor, the Accent; This shows that Hyundai not only increased the localization rate of parts, but also made continuous efforts to acquire all technologies.
Hyundai completed the Accent based on the development know-how it had learned so far: it created a more stringent evaluation standard than global automakers and raised the quality and durability of the product. Meanwhile, the automaker used an $8 million supercomputer to conduct simulations of aerodynamics and crash analysis. In addition, for the first time in Korea’s compact car, airbags and ABS were provided as options, and more high-strength steel plates and engineering plastics were used to reduce weight. Accent has also taken a step forward in terms of design development; At the concept stage, global trends such as sporty sedans, new proportions, clean body skin, and harmony of panels and light were reflected, and computer styling was also attempted for the first time.
Accent added meaning by being equipped with the Alpha engine and transmission developed by the automaker. Compared to the existing Excel engine, the Alpha engine improved overall driving performance by more than 10 horsepower and 0.8 kgf·m in max output and max torque, respectively. In 1997, Hyundai demonstrated a variety of engine technologies by strengthening the Accent’s engine lineup. The 1.5 DOHC Alpha engine developed by improving the 3-valve SOHC Alpha engine opened the era of DOHC for compact cars, and also used a fuel-saving lean-burn engine to meet the needs of the country at a time when economic efficiency was becoming important.
For reference, the lean-burn engine improves efficiency through lean combustion with a fuel mixture ratio of 22:1 (normal mixture ratio 14.7:1) during low-load operation; This achieved a fuel efficiency of 18.9km/L, which is more than 20% more efficient than before. In addition, the lean-burn engine, which reduced hydrocarbons by 76%, carbon monoxide by 80%, nitrogen oxides by 52%, and carbon dioxide by 16%, received attention for won the Presidential Award at the [IR52 Jang Young-sil Award] in 1999. As such, the Accent was a compact car filled with Hyundai’s high-end technology in all aspects, from the platform to the engine.
Accent received a lot of attention from American media outlets; In 1995, The Washington Post reported in an automobile special edition article titled ‘HYUNDAI’S ACCENT IS ON LAST LAUGH’ that the Accent makes people re-evaluate Hyundai. They say, “It doesn’t matter if you’re American or Japanese.” He praised the competitiveness of Hyundai and Accent with the comment, “You’re about to get your butt kicked -- by the Koreans.” In the U.S. market, where Pony Excel entered the market, its world-class competitiveness was recognized in just 10 years.
Since then, the compact car lineup, which has developed competitiveness over several generations, has become the foundation for Hyundai’s global management. In 2008, the compact car Verna (Accent for the overseas model), which continues the lineage of the Accent, marked 1st in the compact car category in the Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), conducted by J.D. Power, an American consumer research institute; It was the highest rank among Hyundai Motor Group vehicles at the time. Additionally, the Accent ranked best in its class in the 2022 Initial Quality Study (IQS); Hyundai’s compact car lineup continues to demonstrate its outstanding competitiveness in various vehicle quality surveys conducted by J.D. Power.
As described above, Hyundai has made great technological achievements starting with the Pony. In particular, the history of compact cars, including the Pony, Pony Excel, Excel, and Accent, shows Hyundai’s commitment to technological development; The automaker evolved from simply assembling and producing licensed models, developed its own models, and has since strived to secure technological competitiveness as a decent automaker. It is as a result of this process that Hyundai was able to leap forward as a first mover in today’s global automobile market. Hyundai’s desire for technological development and a better future will continue in the future.
by Inju Lee
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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