Once known for “cheap and cheerful” products like the original Hyundai Pony, the South Korean carmaker is now a serious contender in the affordable performance market — and the new Kona N SUV is just the latest in what will be a string of new, high-power products rolling out over the next few years.
Hyundai officials offered some insights into their future plans for the N sub-brand Monday night and while that could include additional SUV models, they were unambiguous about plans to add new “green” models, including both those using pure battery-electric drivetrains and even hybrids pairing a battery pack with a hydrogen fuel-cell system.
Electrification is one of parent Hyundai Motor Group’s “top priorities,” said Thomas Schemera, executive vice president of Hyundai’s customer experience group. “The time has come to make that vision a reality.”
Hyundai has big plans for battery power
The automaker has rolled out a series of electrified show cars, including several high-performance models, such as the RM20e, an 800-horsepower electric race car.
It also has introduced the new E-GMP battery-car platform. This skateboard-like architecture will be used for the majority of the 23 different battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, the company plans to bring out through its various brands by 2025.
It appears at least some of those will get the Hyundai N treatment, Schemera stressing that making a vehicle “fun to drive is no longer dependent upon a driveline type.”
What electric N product might come first — and when? “Stay tuned,” the executive said during the Monday webinar.
Something is in the pipeline
But Till Wartenberg, the head of the N sub-brand, was a bit more forthcoming, telling the reporters gathered online, “There is something in the pipeline not too far down the road. There is something coming up.”
If anything, Hyundai may be taking multiple approaches to electrifying its performance line. There will clearly be all-electric N models. And there very well may be hybrids or plug-in hybrids, as well. There’s yet another option that appears to be in the works, according to Albert Biermann, the one-time BMW M chief who now oversees Hyundai’s corporate R&D.
The carmaker, he suggested, may be working on a hydrogen-powered N model. It would use a relatively compact battery pack, Biermann hinted, with a fuel-cell “range-extender.” Such a vehicle would rely solely on electric motors, with the fuel-cell system continuously charging up the battery pack.
As the new Hyundai Kona N, with its 2.0-liter GDI engine, demonstrates, the Korean carmaker isn’t abandoning the internal combustion engine, whether for its mainstream products or those wearing the N badge.
Heartbeats per minute
What is essential, said Biermann, is that any model marketed through the sub-brand must deliver track-ready performance while also being comfortable to operate on public roads day-to-day.
Considering the rapid shift from sedans and coupes to SUVs and CUVs, the obvious question that kept coming up Monday was whether Hyundai will add still more utility vehicles to the N family.
That is clearly a possibility, said Schemera, depending on “market demand,” but there have been “no decisions yet.”
Whatever comes next has to be “affordable,” he said, adding that there could be some surprises, both in terms of what future N models look like and what we’ll find under the hood. “Heartbeats per minute,” said Schemera, “are more important than revolutions per minute.”