LOS ANGELES--Hyundai Motor Co. has expanded its global research and development budget, with an emphasis on improving the fuel economy of Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
The Korean automaker is developing new small-displacement engines as well as hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles.
For 2008, Hyundai Motor has budgeted $1.87 billion--or about 5.2 percent of total company spending--on R&D. That is up from $1.59 billion in 2007, or 4.9 percent of total outlays.
North American R&D spending will be up about 11 percent this year, says Kim Dong-Jin, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor. The company has not detailed those figures.
Back to the basics
"We are going back to the basics and focus on small cars," Kim said in a May interview in Seoul. "We neglected the small-car market the last few years and focused on mid-sized and large to upgrade the brand. But with fuel prices going up, we are going back to the mainstream of our business. The small cars must be front-wheel drive and fuel-efficient."
For the 2009 model year, Hyundai introduced its first V-8 engine and rear-drive platform in the United States with the arrival of the Hyundai Genesis sedan. The 2009 Kia Borrego SUV offers a version of the V-8.
Hyundai Motor plans to concentrate on making its four-cylinder engines more fuel efficient as well as adding turbocharged fours for the Hyundai brand.
But bigger engines also are in development. A Hyundai source who did not want to be identified said the company is working on a supercharged V-8.
The source said Hyundai is not keen on diesels, adding, "They're too expensive."
Hyundai Motor's first hybrid model will be the Hyundai Sonata sedan, set to arrive in 2010. Hyundai subsidiary Hyundai Rotem in South Korea will manufacture the electric motors for the hybrid system.
Better system than Toyota
"The Prius is outdated," Kim said. "We will have a better system than Toyota. Our goal is to have a plug-in by 2011."
Hyundai is also working on fuel cell technology, which may be used for a dedicated platform. Styling for a fuel-cell vehicle may draw from the 2+2 i-Blue crossover concept shown at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show.
Hyundai plans to have a running prototype of the fuel cell vehicle by 2010 and begin leasing about 10,000 vehicles annually to consumers by 2012.
On the telematics front, Hyundai and Kia have entered into a long-term agreement with Microsoft Corp. to develop the next generation of in-car infotainment systems. The first product offers voice-controlled connectivity between mobile devices and will be introduced in North America in 2010.
Said Kim: "The next-generation Sonata (due in the 2011 model year) will be a good example of Korean IT capability in automobiles."