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Hyundai pushes for new N models

High-performance i20 and Kona in frame as case for Veloster N in Australia cools off

1 Oct 2019

HYUNDAI has promised that a number of all-new high-performance N-branded models are on their way to pump up the South Korean brand’s line-up in Australia, with a possible i20 N supermini and Kona and Tucson N crossovers now emerging as strong contenders to follow the hot i30 N hatch and sedan.


The news comes as Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) has all but ruled out a local debut for the Veloster N coupe, revealing last week that decision-makers in Seoul are sticking to their policy of only producing its latest performance model in left-hand drive.


This is despite the fact that Korea has developed a right-hook version of the new-generation Veloster specifically for Australia – we are the only market to take it, at this stage – which means that development costs for an N version would be significantly lower than for a standalone model.


Speaking at the launch of the second-generation Veloster in Brisbane, HMCA senior manager of product planning Andrew Tuitahi said the Veloster N was no longer a hot-ticket item to launch in Australia, despite the company’s best efforts to bring it in.


“What I’ll say is, right now, a Veloster N is extremely unlikely for Australia,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t lucky to have a number of other N products coming.


“That said, we will continue to pursue a Veloster N, and there are maybe one or two opportunities in the near future that will assist us in reopening those negotiations.”


When asked what was holding the high-performance Veloster back from launch here, Mr Tuitahi said the particularly niche nature of the sportscar meant the N version would be a hard sell as Australia is still the only global market to take the new generation in right-hand drive.


“It’s actually a very complex answer,” he said. “Maybe the best summary I can give you is that we’re talking about a niche car, then an N version being a niche on a niche, and so you’re thinking about some very small parts and complexities that need to be carried out of factory as stock and also managed as feeding into a production line at very, very low volume.


“It’s something that’s very, very hard for us and our manufacturing facilities to manage at this stage, at the kind of volumes we’re talking about.”


Furthermore, the vast majority of global markets take only one of either the i30 N or Veloster N, leaving Australia – which already sells the i30 N in both hatch and Fastback sedan body styles – in the minority by wanting both model lines.


Despite the Veloster N setback, Mr Tuitahi said there were a number of new N products around the corner for Australia as it pursued its goal of offering N products in as many segments as possible.


One anticipated entrant is the i20 N light hatch, with HMCA potentially using the same strategy as Ford Australia which is offering its new-generation Fiesta light hatch only in top-spec ST grade.


The i20 was sold in Australia from 2010 to 2015 before being discontinued due to poor currency conversion rates with the European-built runabout.


Mr Tuitahi told GoAuto that an i20 N – a prototype of which was spied testing at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany earlier this year – would be a good fit, with Hyundai able to use the expertise developed from its World Rally Championship (WRC) team, which races i20s.


“I think there’s a few cars that definitely make sense for us,” he said. “If you consider the WRC program features an i20, and having that tie-in to the rally program with an actual car that’s on sale and wears an N badge, that would make sense for us.


“So we would look forward to trying to get access to an i20 N if that were to be made available.”


Mr Tuitahi said HMCA would also look to offer an N product in the SUV space, and while he stopped short of specifying a model line, Hyundai’s global N division boss Albert Biermann told overseas journalists more than a year ago that he had given his team the green light to begin testing the Kona compact crossover with the i30 N’s 202kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and running gear.


Given the success of high-performance mid-size SUVs in the luxury space such as the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S, Audi SQ5 and BMW X3 M, Hyundai’s Tucson is also a hot tip to receive the full N treatment, and overseas reports similarly indicate that such a model is already well into development.


“In terms of other cars, given the market’s shift to SUVs and the fact that at the moment there’s really only the premium brands that are in that performance SUV space, I’d like to see us come to market with an N in some form of SUV body style,” Mr Tuitahi said.


“I think that would be good for a mainstream brand to be able to bring something like that to market. It might change some of the perceptions of buyers a little.”


With the expansion of N models across the Hyundai range, the all-new Sonata mid-size sedan is another contender for a high-performance variant, with the new generation confirmed for a local launch next year.


More N Line models that have the visual wow factor without packing the punch from under the bonnet will also materialise.


“The N portfolio is going to grow significantly over the next few years, and there’s definitely a lot of full-fat N products on the way, and also a good complement of N Line that will make its way into more body styles and more models than the full N versions will,” Mr Tuitahi said.


“(HMCA’s) hand is permanently up. We’re there for all of them.”

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