Performance Cars

How Hyundai plans to grow its N performance brand

Driving experiences and plenty of accessories will help bolster N's presence.

Hyundai

It's been three years since Hyundai announced the formation of its N performance division, and now the automaker is finally launching an N-branded car in the US. Plus, it'll soon show off a halo car of some sort. But along with the introduction of the 275-horsepower Veloster N this year, N bosses want to expand the brand's appeal by offering dealer accessories, providing driving experiences and supporting owners with generous warranties.

First things first: officials I spoke with at a media event in Germany this week declined to say which models will get the N treatment next. Europe will soon add the i30 Fastback N alongside the existing i30 N hatchback. But as for the next N cars in the US, we'll have to wait and see. The one confirmation: N president Albert Biermann says models in Hyundai's Genesis luxury brand won't get N variants.

hyundai-veloster-n-2019-02532

The Veloster N launches in the US toward the end of this year.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

As to growing its new performance sub-brand, the first step is to offer a mid-grade entry between standard Hyundai and full-on N cars. Called N Line, that will entail cars dressed up a little bit with different parts, as well as dealer accessories that could allow customers to hop-up the car they already own -- whether it's a plain-Jane Hyundai or a spicy N model. Think of it as something like Fiat Chrysler's Mopar accessory range. A slideshow at media event hinted that parts like bucket seats, new wheels, upgraded brakes and different spoilers could all be part of the offering once N Line ramps up.

"It will allow customers to taste the N feeling, so to speak," said Thomas Schemera, Hyundai's head of High Performance Vehicles and Motorsports divisions. "Or you can make your N car more capable."

The i30 N Line launches in Europe later this summer. Its various tweaks include 18-inch wheels, a dual exhaust, a new shifter and different seats, all of which were inspired by the i30 N, and there are mild suspension and engine tweaks, too. A Hyundai US spokesman said he couldn't comment on when N Line models or accessories would debut in our market.

Hyundai i30 N Line

Hyundai says the i30 N Line's looks are meant to, "match many elements introduced on the successful i30 N."

Hyundai

Another of N's primary goals is getting people excited about Hyundai cars in general, and Schemera sees hands-on driving experiences as key. N has already green-lit such programs in its home market of South Korea, and it "just approved" for those programs to expand to Europe and the US. Both N and non-N cars will be offered for test drives through dealerships.

Since Hyundai doesn't necessarily have an established car fanbase the way, say, Schemera's former employer BMW M did, he said that getting people behind the wheel is important. Schemera said it can be tough to create a business case for these arrangements. One potential strategy: ask customers to pay for the driving experience up front, but then reimburse them for that cost if they end up buying a car.

Customers who do buy the sporty new Veloster N once it launches this fall can rest assured that using their cars as intended won't be cause for arguments with the warranty department. Schemera insists that simple track-day use won't be grounds for warranty cancellation.

"We said, hey, it's handled like a regular production car, so there's no problem with the warranty," Schemera said. "We haven't had that problem yet."

After about a year of i30 N sales in Europe, he reports "zero point zero problems, no complaints" about warranty coverage. However, there are some limits: ECU tuning -- reflashing the computer for more horsepower -- or changing suspension or brake parts could pose a problem for warranty coverage.

One thing's for sure: Hyundai's N brand may have taken a while to launch, but it's picking up speed and should be fun to watch.