Hyundai starts running with a fast crowd

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Hyundai starts running with a fast crowd

NURBURG, Germany - About two hours from Frankfurt in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate is Nurburgring, the “holy land” of motorsport.

Opened in 1927, the Nurburgring is widely recognized as one of the most challenging racetracks in the world. Its Nordschleife, or north loop, has 73 corners spread across 20.8 kilometers (12.9 miles) of tarmac and an altitude variation of almost 300 meters (984 feet).

Because of its difficulty, the Nurburgring, nicknamed the “Green Hell,” has been the place for automakers to test their cars’ durability, handling and gearbox ratios.

“If it works here, it will work everywhere,” says Stephane Clepkens, test driver for Hyundai Motor. “There’s a reason why every automaker comes here.”

More than 40 companies are registered at the Nurburgring industrial complex to regularly use the track, which is also open to the public at 27 euros ($36.45) per lap.

While many automakers already had facilities around the circuit, Hyundai Motor Group joined the club in September when it officially opened its Nurburgring Test Center after investing nearly $9 million. The company previously tested its cars occasionally at the track.

Construction on its 3,622-square-meter (38,987-square-foot) test center began in June 2012, and the company pays 120,000 euros per year to use the circuit.

Hyundai’s glass and metal covered building stands out among the brick structures in the Nurburgring complex. It houses workshops, office space and hospitality areas on four floors. Only a few employees work there year round, but during test season more than 10 engineers come to check tests, according to Hyundai.

Although a latecomer to the circuit, the automaker says its new test center will allow “further evaluation and development of the durability and driving dynamics of vehicles more effectively and more often.”

“In Europe, automakers have such pride about testing at the Nurburgring,” says Lee Dae-woo, senior research engineer at Hyundai Motor European Technical Center. “Getting tested at Nurburgring helps the marketing of the car.”

For vehicles designed and developed for the European market it is considered mandatory to do 480 test laps of the Nordschleife in both dry and wet conditions, simulating more than 180,000 kilometers of rigorous driving in less than six weeks.

On each lap, data parameters are continually monitored and results are given to the development team at Nurburgring, as well as researchers at Namyang R&D Center in Korea and the European Technical Center in Russelsheim, about 160 kilometers away.

Hyundai sees its new Nurburgring facility as an extension of its European Technical Center, where design and engineering teams have been based since 2003, which will enable Hyundai’s engineers to quickly make changes and tailor the reliability and drivability of their products.

In recent months, Hyundai’s focus was on the next-generation Genesis, the premium sedan that will be introduced next year in Europe. Hyundai says the new Genesis went though rigorous testing at the Nurburgring from March to September.

The new Genesis was also tested for durability at Hyundai’s Mojave proving ground in California, as well as through winter tests in Sweden and heat tests in Granada, Spain. It also ran courses in Grossglockner High Alpine Road in Austria to test braking.

Hyundai says all of these moves are in line with orders from Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo, who emphasized during his business trip to Europe last week that the new Genesis must compete with German luxury auto brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

As a result, Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center is focusing on the “emotional appeal” of the car’s performance and Nurburgring test center will play a pivotal role. “I think our ride and handling level is still about 2 or 3 percent less than the Germans,” says Yang Seung-wook, vice president at Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center. “We still need to improve steering and handling compared to them, but the gap has been closing.”


BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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