Namyang, where Hyundai, Kia and Genesis models are developed, is a vast, sprawling facility. It covers nearly 3.5 million square feet, with more than 13,000 staff working in 160 buildings.
Among many other facilities, Namyang has a wind tunnel, a crash test facility and an engine and transmission development centre. At the heart of the site is a network of test tracks, built around a huge, kilometre-long straight. It’s as wide as a motorway and, frankly, almost as busy - but with a lot more camouflage livery and disguised cars than you’ll find on the M6.
In short, it’s a big place – and it feels like it. Everyone we met during a tour of the facility was invariably polite, hospitable and welcoming, but it feels like the massive institution it is. And it’s a big institution where the target is scale: more sales, more growth, more volume.
Except in one small corner – a tiny part of Namyang that feels far more European.
On the edge of the facility, Hyundai has built a handling and performance track. Featuring elevations changes, sweeping bends, multiple off-camber corners and precious little run-off, it’s not a coincidence that it has the feel of a mini-Nürburgring.
As part of the Namyang tour, I got to lap that track in a prototype i30N (read Matt Saunders’ expert opinion of that car here), and also to meet many of the staff from the N division. And the change in approach was notable: the N team didn’t feel like part of a vast corporation, but a small team of passionate car enthusiasts.
That’s by design: when Hyundai attracted Biermann over from BMW, his task was to ensure the N division would make performance cars with the same level of passion and enthusiasm. The N division isn’t tasked with selling more cars; it’s about making great cars. There’s a freedom that doesn’t exist elsewhere in Namyang. Yet.
To progress that approach, members of the N team have been embedded with Hyundai’s WRC team and other motorsport programmes. And Hyundai is now starting to push that learning in the other direction: employees have been rotated into the N division and then back into the wider company.