In Hyundai’s mind, consumers now know the brand builds reliable cars. Quality cars. Attractive cars.
“But now we have the knowledge to add sportiness to that image,” says Klaus Köster, Hyundai’s European director for high performance vehicle development.
The Hyundai i30 N, essentially a high-performance version of the Hyundai Elantra GT that Americans will soon be able to purchase in less powerful iterations, is instantly becoming the foundation for a Hyundai brand that wants to be taken more seriously for its athleticism.
Just as the i30 N spent much of its development time at Hyundai’s six-year-old technical center beside Germany’s iconic Nürburgring circuit, now every Hyundai will be assessed at the Nürburgring.
The Santa Fe’s ‘Ring time probably won’t be published.
Speaking to Autocar, Hyundai’s Köster revealed some lofty goals. Admittedly, they’re long-term goals.
“It would be very nice if in 10 to 15 years,” Köster says, “we can have people on the street seeing Hyundai as a brand that makes cars which are fun to drive.”
That may be the requirement for the brand to capture more attention in Europe, where Hyundai aspires to be the top-selling non-European brand. Hyundai’s European sales have more than tripled over the last decade. The gap between Hyundai and Toyota is now fewer than 100,000 annual sales.
But even with record all-time volume in 2016, Hyundai’s European growth has slowed, just as Hyundai’s growth has slowed in the United States. After exploding for a 66-percent gain between 2008 and 2012, Hyundai’s European sales grew only 16 percent between 2012 and 2016.
Establishing Hyundai as an enthusiast brand won’t be an easy task now that Hyundai has solidified a reputation as a value-oriented automaker. It will help, however, if cars such as the i30 N (which won’t be sold in North America) and partner vehicles such as the next-generation Veloster N (which will be sold in North America) are more than just flashy, boy-racer tuner cars with more power.
On this side of the pond, the pleasantly balanced Hyundai Elantra Sport is hopefully an accurate harbinger. The degree to which the i30 N is infinitely more subtle than something like the Honda Civic Type R carries some meaning, as well. Hyundai won’t change its image at all if it attempts to do so overnight with one model.
The N sub-brand, meanwhile, appears destined for many more vehicles, although the link to Hyundai’s Namyang facility will quickly be overlooked as visions of Nürburgring dance in Accent owners’ minds.
A version of this story originally appeared on The Truth About Cars
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