“We feel our products are better than our brand’s strengths in the marketplace,” says Albert Biermann, who heads up Hyundai’s N brand after moving over from BMW’s M division. “Developing high-performance cars is a way to strengthen the brand, to bring more emotion to the brand.”
Okay, there’s some marketing speak in there. And in the end, Hyundai wouldn’t be launching N if it didn’t think there was money to be made selling hot hatches like the i30N and other performance cars.
But it feels like there really is more to N than just a ‘halo effect’. It’s about infusing a new ethos into the wider company.
Hyundai says it settled on the N tag because the division works across Hyundai’s facilities at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany (below), and the Namyang R&D centre in Korea. The i30N has been developed at both. Again, there’s some marketing spiel in there – but a recent trip to Namyang demonstrated to me how N really is helping to infuse Hyundai with a new ethos.
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.