Hyundai throws down to the industry with its new crossover utility: Yes, it may be economical and have a great warranty, but it also has the features and performance to be compared with...Lexus.
John Krafcik, vice president, Product Development and Strategic Planning, Hyundai Motor America, is puzzled. Among some of the things he doesn’t understand:
- Why Hyundai doesn’t get more credit for its implementation of electronic stability control (ESC) as a standard. They’ve gone from 0 to 73% between model years ’04 and ’07. He points out, for example, while Honda is generally perceived as an automotive safety leader (e.g., “Safety for Everyone”), it has 42% of its models with standard ESC.
- Why Hyundai isn’t recognized as a leader in quality. For example, in the 2006 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), the top three name plates and the associated number of problems per 100 vehicles are, in order, Porsche—91; Lexus—93; Hyundai—103. That’s right. Two premium names followed by a non-premium nameplate. He also points out that in the midsize car segment the Sonata (which, he also notes, outsold the Ford Fusion in 2006, 149,513 units versus 142,503), came in third, after the perennials, Camry and Accord. The Elantra was second in the compact segment, sandwiched by the Corolla and the Civic; the Azera was sandwiched by the Pontiac Grand Prix and the Nissan Maxima in the large car category. The Tucson topped the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Xterra in the compact multi-activity vehicle segment. In addition to which, there are a multiplicity of other awards the firm has garnered of late, from research firms, publications, and other organizations.
What Krafcik is certain of, however, is that the company’s new midsize crossover is going to make its mark as a highly competent and competitive entry. The “functional target” for the 2007 Veracruz was the Lexus RX 350. Krafcik explains that when doing vehicle development, the benchmarking of market-competitive vehicles—in this case, the primary competitive set consists of the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, and the Subaru B9 Tribeca—would not be particularly useful because you might end up with something that is equal to or better than that which exists. And by the time the development is complete, the competitors are likely to have moved on from where they were. So instead they do “segment-up” benchmarking, which led them to the Lexus. The result? “We think the Veracruz is a heck of a lot better than the RX,” Krafcik claims. Of course he would. But what is fairly evident from a look at some of the specs is that they’ve created a unibody crossover that leads in many of the categories. For example, consider cargo volume. It has 86.8-ft3, and the RX offers 84.7-ft3. Another upmarket competitor, the Mercedes GL 450, which is in the full-size category, offers 83.3-ft3. The Veracruz is longer and wider than the RX: 190.9 in. long; 76.6 in. wide, versus 186.2 in. and 72.6 in. Then there are performance attributes, such as idle vibration, noise and booming. Hyundai deploys an electronically controlled engine mount that is released at idle to lower dynamic stiffness and is fully engaged at speed, to ensure maximum damping. So, according to its measurements, the idle vibration (measured in dB) for the steering wheel is 106 for both the Veracruz and the RX. At the floor, idle vibration is 93 for the Veracruz and 94 for the RX. As regards idle noise (measured in dBA), the two vehicles are tied at 38. And idle booming (measured in dBC) numbers are 75 for the Veracruz and 76 for the RX. When driving, the numbers, once again, according to Hyundai, are equal to or better than, as in pass-by noise (dBA) equal at 53 and 100 kph cruise noise being better at 63 versus 65 for the RX. The road noise (dBA) is a wash at 69. The 110 kph wind noise (dBA) goes to the Veracruz at 62.8 versus 65.2 for the RX. And on it goes.
But there’s one more thing to take into account. The entry price to an RX 350 is $37,400 (plus $715 for delivery). Someone can get into a base Veracruz, the GLS front-wheel-drive, for $26,305 (plus $690 for freight). Krafcik knows that it is unlikely that someone is going to cross-shop a Veracruz and an RX. But it is a measure of his confidence to make the comparison.
Building & the Blocks.
The Veracruz is being built at the Hyundai assembly complex in Ulsan (located south of Seoul), where 16 different vehicles are produced at a total output of approximately 1.5 million units annually. Krafcik notes that this is a highly flexible facility, so that the number of vehicles produced for the U.S. market will be predicated on demand.
Hyundai has developed a dedicated crossover platform, so that the Veracruz is not based on the Azera, its largest sedan, nor is the Santa Fe based on the Sonata, its midsize. Both of the CUVs are based on the same platform. Which leads to a question as to why the Veracruz is not being built in the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama assembly plant in Montgomery, for which Krafcik has no answer (at least not one he is willing to share).
So what are some of the key elements of the vehicle? Under its hood is a 3.8-liter V6 engine, a member of the company’s Lambda family; the Azera also has a 3.8. There is Hyundai’s first six-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC manual shift; this transmission is actually sourced from Aisin, the Japanese company that Toyota owns a major part of, and which supplies transmissions to a variety of companies, including General Motors and Chrysler Group. The electronically controlled, multi-disc, rear mounted (attached to the rear differential) all-wheel-drive system is from JTEKT, the company established by Toyoda Koki Automotive Systems. One of the options is a proximity key that allows entry into the vehicle as well as starting without removing the fob from one’s pocket; it was developed with Siemens VDO. The point here, of course, is to indicate that Hyundai is sourcing systems from leading auto suppliers; it isn’t going with the economy brands.