HYUNDAI is working on a top secret supercar as a flagship to its new Genesis luxury range and upcoming N performance models.
Wheels has learnt the yet to be announced Genesis supercar will have Porsche, Ferrari, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz in its crosshairs when it finally breaks cover as a halo machine for the fast-growing Korean carmaker.
Speaking at the 2016 Detroit Motor Show, Hyundai vice-president of product planning Mike O’Brien all but confirmed a supercar was in the wings.
When asked if a halo car could be used to shine a spotlight on the Hyundai brand, in much the same way as Lexus used the LFA and Honda the US-branded Acura NSX, O’Brien was forthright.
“Absolutely,” he said. “And [newly appointed Hyundai performance chief] Albert Biermann, who we hired from BMW M, is actively working on that right now.”
When asked specifically if Hyundai could produce a supercar – to be sold under its recently announced Genesis luxury brand – O’Brien was more cautious.
“Well, you've heard discussion about the N brand … it'll be what you expect, let me say that.
“It'll be a coupe-like body with great performance. That's all I can say at this point. I think you'll be very pleased,” he said before a PR minder shut down the line of questioning.
Albert Biermann, the former BMW M division boss, is one of a number of engineers and designers the ambitious Korean carmaker has poached over more than two years as part of a top secret plan to make its high performance supercar come true.
When quizzed about all-wheel-drive performance cars the respected German engineer gave a tantalising clue to the upcoming supercar.
“Are there really so many all-wheel-drive cars out there that are fun to drive?” he questioned. “I think one can, but it's not out there yet. You need to wait until then…”
As for what would power the Hyundai/Genesis supercar, Biermann was guarded.
He confirmed emissions regulations would likely force the shift to a turbocharged V8 for some N models.
“I cannot comment on that today. But for the future … if you go to performance area it might be you need to go to turbo.”
He also hinted Hyundai was considering hybrid propulsion but he would not detail how and where it could be used. Given the push towards hybrid drivetrains from Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren, some form of electrification would seem logical, especially considering the Genesis supercar will likely be on the road by 2020 at the earliest.
Biermann said there were other models ahead of any supercar.
“We have a nice roadmap for the next five years working so there will be [a] Genesis car included,” said Biermann, suggesting early 2018 as a likely start for the N sub-brand.
“The first N car will be on the road in two years from now.”
“[The first N car] is a car more focused on Europe, and then the next car will be focused on the US and so we take an easy start,” said Biermann. “We don’t go to full blast on the first car but the philosophy, the jobs, how we approach a high-performance car, how we develop it, the thinking – it’s all full high-performance.”
Biermann said any Hyundai or Genesis high performance N car would be about driving enjoyment – and stretching that all the way to the race track.
He said N cars would be “the full package” … “real race track-going high performance cars.”
“There’s for our company some new technology but it’s much more the way we are working on the project and it’s all about the driving fun. That’s on top of everything else – fun to drive.”
Hyundai has already shown how far it can push its N brand with the Vision N 2025 concept car from the 2015 Frankfurt motor show. While the hydrogen fuel cell-powered virtual racer has no prospect of production, it demonstrates the car maker's radical thinking.
Hyundai America president and chief executive Dave Zuchowski said the N sub-brand was a big spend and that the end result would be cars that “are going to be outstanding”.
“If you think about it, we have a completely separate R&D function in our group now to focus on,” said Zuchowski. “We have a completely separate design function to focus on. This isn’t just something we’re talking about – this is something we’re throwing considerable resources, people and dollars, against.”
As well as Biermann, late last year Hyundai also snared former Lamborghini design chief Luc Donckerwolke, a man who also headed Bentley design. And only weeks ago Hyundai tempted former Lamborghini design and brand director Manfred Fitzgerald to join its expanding performance team.
Adding to the supercar speculation is activity at the brand’s Namyang proving ground in Korea. Hyundai has spent up big on cars as diverse as a BMW M3, Porsche 911 and Porsche 911 Turbo as benchmarks for its upcoming supercar assault.