By on August 14, 2017

2018 Hyundai Kona - Image: Hyundai

Getting a new or redesigned model off the drawing board and into showrooms isn’t like designing and posting a meme on Facebook. It’s time consuming, and automakers run the risk of being left behind as rivals cash in on the latest hot bodystyle or styling trend.

Hyundai knows this, having underestimated the buying public’s affection for anything with a high ride height and rear liftgate. The Korean automaker made a bundle on its well-fleshed-out car lineup following the recession, but the seismic shift towards SUVs and crossovers left it scrambling to bolster its three-vehicle utility lineup. The result? Stagnant sales.

This won’t happen under a new plan, the company’s senior vice president of design claims. Hyundai’s hitting the product throttle.

Speaking to Automotive News, Luc Donckerwolke claims Hyundai’s product design cycle will soon drop from three years to 1.5 years, increasing its competitiveness. Rushing vehicles to production isn’t without risk, but the opening of Hyundai’s massive, $67 million Namyang R&D Center near Seoul should help when it comes to avoiding missteps.

“As life cycles get shorter, they will get drastically shorter,” Donckerwolke said. “I have no doubt design can be shortened by half.”

The automaker’s design head feels his styling team should have the development period shaved by 30 percent within a year and a half. All the better for Hyundai, currently in the midst of a product push. The next new product, the controversially styled Kona subcompact crossover, arrives stateside in early 2018. Other utility vehicles carrying Hyundai and Genesis badges are scheduled for arrival in the near future.

That styling team’s responsibility includes transferring elements of the Kona to redesigned Hyundai crossovers. Among them, a revamped Santa Fe and Tucson. Due to its premium status, Genesis’ future models will go their own way, stylistically. Also, for the sake of the fledgling brand, they’ll need to show up sooner rather than later.

Genesis wants its U.S. dealers separated from Hyundai retailers as quickly as possible in a bid to lessen confusion surrounding the brand and pick up a little exclusivity. Currently, there’s only two models inhabiting Genesis showrooms — the midsize G80 and full-size G90 sedans, with a smaller G70 on the way. But, as Hyundai saw with its namesake brand, it’s utilities buyers want. The sooner Genesis stocks its showrooms with utility vehicles (there’s two on the way), the better for everyone involved.

Lee SangYup, vice president for design at Hyundai and Genesis, admits, “We needed a more streamlined process.”

There’s apparently no lack of room at the new R&D center, which Hyundai claims can have teams working on 25 vehicle projects at a time. (The center itself oversees 65 vehicle projects covering the Hyundai and Genesis brands.) Tellingly, despite all the open space — which gives engineers a chance to stare at an unfinished product form some distance away — there’s a big wall between the Hyundai camp and Genesis crew.

“We don’t want our brand to be called Hyundai-Genesis,” Lee said.

[Image: Hyundai]

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20 Comments on “Hyundai, Hoping to Avoid Falling Behind Again, is Slashing Its Product Design Cycle in Half...”


  • avatar

    I hope they can fix their reliability issues. I recently drove (and did a SWEET burnout in) a Dodge Charger Scat Pack. It’s really a great car, quite good actually, but you can tell it’s on an aging platform. I would love to own a 500 Abarth, but the reliability is known to be quite bad. Alfas are also on the same boat, SO pretty, but SO unreliable, at least so far…

  • avatar

    “Hyundai’s massive, $67 million Namyang R&D Center”

    That seems like small potatoes compared to the $154 million that Toyota just spent on *expanding* their R&D facility near Ann Arbor.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The article was poorly written – the $67 million is just for the new DESIGN center at Namyang.

      Overall, the Namyang R&D center is massive and cost a lot more.

  • avatar
    mike9o

    The Namyang Design Center has been open for 20 years. Maybe a new building or two were opened recently, but the design center is hardly new.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “I have no doubt design can be shortened by half.”

    And the engineers shuddered.

    As a design engineer, I’ve seen this movie before.

    Sure, inefficiencies should be weeded out incrementally. But this magic-wand shortening of the design cycle is a consequence of Hyundai’s inept marketing, which the engineering team must now pay for.

    The result will be a mixture of:
    1. Success.
    2. Rapid excretion of various vehicle shapes and sizes that nobody wants, just to see what sticks.
    3. A spike in development costs.
    4. A spike in quality problems and recalls.
    5. A shortening of the test cycle, Tesla style.
    6. Higher employee turnover, particularly in the development staff.
    7. Higher parts and tooling costs, since the design cycle is shortening and suppliers will bear the burden of rapid turnaround.
    8. Recycling of old, familiar drivetrains. All this quick development religion won’t really apply to drivetrains.
    9. Higher support costs, since more variety in the field means more training of sales and service staff, and more granular part numbers in inventory.
    10. and/or… Failure.

    As an extreme, just consider the mayhem if Hyundai could redesign the Sonata or Tucson *every year*. That’s almost what they’re talking about.

    • 0 avatar
      turbo_awd

      Quite likely. Many people won’t buy a 1st-year re-designed model. Last year of a given model are often phase-out sales and huge discounts, because people know the new model is coming.

      If you have 3 years total sales of a given model – 1 year, work out the bugs, 2nd year, sell lots (hopefully?), 3rd year, ramp down for next year’s new model, that’s insane. You’ll get 1 year of good sales out of 3, unless it’s an instant hit.

      Plus, the parts inventory will be insane, and forget about aftermarket support for anything but basic bolt-ons. Who’s going to bother with any kind of tuning/etc when it’s really only for 1-2 years?

      I know it sounds good *in theory*, but..

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Agreed, it is too aggressive and unnecessary. They have SUVs in all the segments, they just need to make more – hardly rocket science. Also they design centre is not that big – $67 million doesn’t buy that much.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Rather poor product planning (along with production planning – underestimated the capacity needed to feed demand) than poor marketing (not that I think the marketing is that great either, but most marketing is rather ho-hum).

      While Hyundai has 3 CUVs (counting the SF and SFS separate), it’s not like the lineup is w/o its flaws.

      The SF is too small to adequately compete against the likes of the much larger Pilot, Explorer, etc. and the Tucson, already on the smaller side, is now virtually a “subcompact” compared to the new, larger CR-V.

    • 0 avatar
      nlinesk8s

      I call this “management by Microsoft Project”. Upper management declares that “the product life cycle will be cut by half”. The exec pulls out their computer and says: “If I now put 2x the engineers, where we had 1x before, the project will magically complete in half the time!” Where will the engineers come from? Why, low cost countries!

      So the design team gets saddled with a bunch of engineers who may be bright, but have no training or experience in the product or 3d system. It’s like fielding a pro sports team with high schoolers, to get 2x people.

      The end result is a real cluster. And of course the manager who dreamed up this scheme, bonus in-hand, wisely exits the company prior to the inevitable implosion.

      Don’t get me wrong: There are ways to shorten product development cycles. Highly focused and trained teams can work in tandem. But that’s expensive, requires experienced people, and it usually doesn’t happen.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Also don’t think this means that Hyundai is going to slash the life-cycle of its models from typically 5 years (sometimes longer) to 3 years.

    Just that they want to cut the initial design and development process in half (still going to need the time to do all the testing).

    Tho, I can see maybe going to something like a 4-year life-cycle (which would cut out the need for an MCE) with platforms being used for 8 years (2 life-cycles which is an industry norm) and a powertrain update for 2nd model on the platform.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Gotta say, Hyundai is running scared with global drops in its sales everywhere. Their management used to be known as silly ruthless up to about 2007, firing sales people who didn’t meet sales targets that were completely stupidly high. Then they had a decade of growth and tranquillity until the current downturn, whereupon management reverted to type, leaping around in utter confusion firing people who don’t meet the plan for selling bigger mountains of dogfood and breakfast cereal every month without fail, no excuses tolerated. Now they’re going on a product blitz. Good luck with that.

    The CUV/SUV thing means little and has been exaggerated. They have three, Honda has three and only one that really sells in real quantity, the CR-V. Combined HR-V and Pilot sales amount to just over half of the CR-V.

    Now all Hyundai has to do is design a half decent CUV to compete with the CR-V and people will buy them. Maybe. First they need to sort out the naming confusion between Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe, two different vehicles entirely. The Sport is the CR-V competitor, I think, and sells at one-third of the rate of the CR-V. The public is probably just as confused as to which is which in Santa Fe land and that can’t help. Someone needs to step back, rationalize and have a good think about names.

    It’s like the Elantra lineup, regular, Sport, GT, probably a hybrid – who the hell knows what’s what and is it on for $29 a week or $6 grand off? Hyundai doesn’t sell vehicles, it moves units.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Actually, the only markets where H/K have really been hurting are the China and US markets – which unfortunately for them, are their 2 largest markets.

      H/K are growing in markets like Europe, India, Australia, Mexico.

      In Europe – they are the largest Asian automaker.

      In Australia, they’re 2nd next to Toyota (in large part due to fleet and not having BoF SUVs and trucks) and despite just recently entering the Mexican market, have surpassed Toyota there.

      Kia is planning on entering the Indian market (where Hyundai has the largest presence among import brands after Maruti Suzuki); both never should have focused so much on the China market due to the political risks (the PRC wanting to see the tin-pot regime in NK stay in power).

      Their miss-steps in the US market has been the lack of CUVs and the over-dependence on cars for sales.

      Not so much the # of models, but capacity/supply.

      Honda produced more CR-Vs for the NA market than the entire capacity for Hyundai’s plant in Alabama.

      Honda has a plant in Mexico producing the HR-V and can hike production if demand required it (right now, on mark to sell over 100k in the US).

      Hyundai, otoh, has earmarked only 40k of the upcoming Kona for the US market due to tight supply issues.

      Hyundai has a “half-decent” CUV in the Tucson (actually, more than half-decent – has won comparison tests against the venerable CX-5 overseas), but with the further growth of the CR-V, difficult for the Tucson to go head to head with the CR-V as the it is now more Santa Fe Sport in interior space.

      But all markets are not like the US market.

      For instance, in Australia, the Tucson is the 2nd best selling CUV in its segment (after the CX-5 and ahead of the RAV-4) and combined with Sportage sales, would easily be first.

      In the UK, the Sportage is the 2nd best selling CUV in its segment after the venerable Qashqai, and the best selling (retail) in NZ.

      For all of Europe, it is expected that Sportage/Tucson sales would exceed that of the Qashqai for the year.

      In these markets, Honda is a much smaller player; Honda, as a brand, outsold by Kia, alone, in places like Europe and Australia.

      In Europe, for the 1st half of the year, Kia sold 245,841 vehicles.

      Honda sold 74,003.

      The CR-V’s poor performance in these markets doesn’t mean that it isn’t a “quality” CUV.

      But that doesn’t solve Hyundai’s issues in the US market.

      1st and foremost, Hyundai needs the Kona, ASAP.

      2nd, they need more supply of the Tucson (with the next gen growing bigger to better compete against the other compact CUVs which are larger).

      3rd, they need the replacements of the Santa Fe Sport and SF ASAP. The former taking a more rugged, off-road bent and the latter growing in size to better compete against the likes of the Pilot, Pathfinder, Explorer, etc.

  • avatar
    Magnusmaster

    “That styling team’s responsibility includes transferring elements of the Kona to redesigned Hyundai crossovers. ”

    God no, please no! Anything but that! The Kona is FUGLY!

  • avatar
    JDG1980

    Hyundai’s existing crossovers are mostly fine, they just don’t make enough of them to meet demand. They need to focus on adding manufacturing capacity, not trying to shorten the engineering cycle.

    And they’ve already got the Santa Cruz lined up and ready to go – how about actually producing it?

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    What? I didn’t think I’d ever see the day that the ugly Cherokee styling would be an influence on another vehicle. It’s not exactly copied, but it’s too similar to ignore the resemblance.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Cherokee or Citroen?

      Plus, Hyundai had headlights similar in shape on a concept back in 2004.

      Anyhow, won’t look too much the same as the Kona as Hyundai plans on greater differentiation btwn models.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    If they’d only release some of the designs they tease, they might do better.

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