Hyundai r&d chief: No fear of Apple, Google

The Genesis G90 is a technology showcase for Hyundai Motor Group.

HWASEONG, South Korea — Hyundai Motor Group’s global r&d chief seems unruffled by the industry hubbub over new mobility.

Google won’t challenge old-school metal-benders by trying to make cars, he says. Apple isn’t a big worry because it doesn’t fully appreciate the complexity of making an automobile. And ride-hailing companies such as Uber are novelties to keep a keen eye on.

Indeed, Vice Chairman Yang Woong-chul generally thinks the surest strategy is for Hyundai to work with its current suppliers to develop next-gen technologies.

“We do it all ourselves, in partnering with some component suppliers,” Yang said in an interview this month at Hyundai Motor Group’s Namyang r&d center here south of Seoul. “We have pretty good technologies.

Yang: “We have pretty good technologies.”

Yang’s frank assessment of the dawn of new mobility underscores an old-school ethic at Hyundai that prioritizes self-reliance over partnerships. In an era of industry consolidation, driven largely by a need to share spiraling development costs for alternative powertrains, autonomous driving technologies and advanced safety systems, Hyundai stands out for its stalwart insistence on tackling such challenges in-house.

“We have seen that with many other companies, alliances have seen more failures than success,” Yang said, noting that Hyundai also has no intention of pairing with a rival to develop hydrogen fuel cells, as many competing carmakers have done.

The world’s No. 5 auto manufacturer takes a skeptical view of potential interlopers from Silicon Valley at a time when competitors from Detroit to Wolfsburg are struggling to come to grips with the unfolding landscape.

“Google is not a threat. They have announced they are not going to produce any vehicles,” Yang said. “All the media are saying Google is producing a vehicle. But they’ve announced they are not a car company.”

And Apple?

“Not really worried,” Yang said. “Vehicle manufacturing is not that simple.”

Added Yang: “They have some chance to develop an electric vehicle. But they are more cautious. Rather than playing the media, or publicizing such things, the company is doing things more secretly before they have something to show.”

Ride hailing and car sharing are on the radar, but Hyundai is still reading the winds. Neither business model has gained much traction in the home market of South Korea.

Yang said Hyundai Motor Group’s biggest markets are overseas in places such as the United States and China, and that’s where it will have to join the game.

“We cannot be completely away from those kinds of new mobility businesses,” Yang said. “We are certainly trying to get into those kinds of things.”

But if Hyundai partners with a new player, Yang said, it will do so on its own terms.

He bristled at the notion that Silicon Valley’s high-tech companies will take over as the value-added component in the car-making equation, providing the computerized brains for a metal box supplied by old-guard automakers. Some industry forecasters envision a future in which vehicle operation systems are branded on cars the way Intel microprocessors have been branded in personal computers with “Intel inside” sticker logos.

“But ‘Hyundai, powered by Google?’ Do you think that’s a good idea?” Yang asked. “Google wants that. Google will be taking more advantage out of that than automotive companies.”

In any case, Hyundai’s technology can hold its own, he said.

Yang cited the advanced safety system and autonomous driving features in the new Genesis G90, the flagship sedan of Hyundai Motor Group’s new Genesis luxury brand.

The G90’s suite of advanced safety technologies, dubbed Genesis Smart Sense, bundles cruise control, lane-keeping assist and technologies to reduce driver fatigue.

In addition, the vehicle packs an autonomous braking system with pedestrian detection, active blind-spot detection, a driver attention alert system and an around-view monitor.

Hyundai also was the first to equip cars with Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay smartphone connectivity applications, proving it knows how to cooperate, he added.

“We are not actually behind,” Yang said of the surging wave of new technology. “We are the one very actively applying it to real production vehicles.” 

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