Chinese want a driverless Hyundai after seeing ‘Descendants’ episode

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Chinese want a driverless Hyundai after seeing ‘Descendants’ episode

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Korean automakers show off their latest vehicles at the Beijing Motor Show held at the China International Exhibition Center in Beijing on Monday. From left is Hyundai Motor’s Verna, exclusive to the Chinese market; Kia Motors’ compact SUV Niro; and Ssangyong Motor’s Tivoli SUV. [HYUNDAI MOTOR, KIA MOTORS, SSANGYONG MOTOR]

Hyundai Motor said it has received more consumer inquiries in China after a hit Korean drama featured its cars and a scene showed a couple kissing while their Genesis sedan drove by itself.

“Descendants of the Sun,” a television serial about a Korean special forces captain and a surgeon falling in love while on an overseas mission, brings together two of the country’s most recognizable stars: Song Joong-ki and actress Song Hye-kyo. In China, where the show has garnered more than 2.6 billion views on video site iQiyi, female fans of the show’s lead actor have taken to calling themselves “Mrs. Song” on social media.

Hyundai is hoping some of that adulation rubs off on its cars and translates into sales. In the scene, the supporting male lead engages the Genesis’s lane-keeping and cruise control function on the touchscreen dashboard before reaching over to grab his love interest’s hand, eyes locked on hers and off the road.

The camera pans out to show the car driving independently on a city road with vehicles zooming past before cutting back to the steering wheel, sans hands. The stunt is repeated, and the scene ends with a prolonged kiss to soft strains of orchestral music.

That scene alone made a convert of Grace Wang. The 23-year-old sales representative at a boutique in Beijing plans to make her first car a Hyundai.

“I would like to have a car that can go by itself like I saw in the show,” she said. “It is so cool.”

Hyundai could do with the help. Deliveries fell 5.1 percent to 1.06 million vehicles last year in China, the first annual sales decline since 2007. The shift in consumer preferences to cheaper sport utility vehicles hurt demand for the automaker’s sedan-heavy lineup, dragging it to the lowest profit in five years.

The automaker will respond by cutting costs at its plants in China and stepping up production of smaller cars and SUVs to take advantage of a tax cut in October, Chief Financial Officer Lee Won-hee said on a conference call in January. At next week’s Beijing motor show, the automaker plans to show models including its new ix35 SUV and China-specific version of its Elantra sedan.

“While Hyundai is already an established brand in China, we expect the show’s popularity to further help enhance our brand perception and awareness,” Hyundai said in a statement. “It is too early to say the show immediately helped boost our sales, our dealers are getting increasing interest and inquiries about products shown in the soap opera.”

Although its cars can now drive themselves semi-autonomously in controlled environments, Hyundai says laws in most countries mandate that drivers keep their hands on the steering wheels. The lane-keeping and cruise control functions may also be hampered by low-light conditions and severe rain as they rely on cameras to detect lane markings.

The carmaker plans to develop partially autonomous vehicles by 2020 and fully self-driving cars by 2030, when the vehicles can pilot themselves for the entire journey from the engine start to parking. Most major automakers, including Toyota Motor, are working on some form of autonomous driving technology.

For now, Hyundai’s lane-keeping function turns itself off 20 seconds after hands are removed from the steering wheel. So any kisses will have to be quick. Bloomberg



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