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Market Insight: Hyundai up another notch with i40

Turning point: Hyundai’s i40 has become the first Asian vehicle to win gold at the influential Global Car Body Benchmarking awards.

Hyundai flaunts premium brand status with global car body benchmark award for i40

27 Oct 2011

UPDATED: 01/11/2011HYUNDAI’S transformation from a budget brand to a quality, high-value marque that has its Asian and, significantly, European rivals now analysing its every move was again demonstrated this month when the South Korean car-maker’s all-new i40 Tourer received the gold award at the Global Car Body Benchmarking conference in Germany.

Arguably as influential as a five-star rating from the independent NCAP safety authority, and certainly more relevant than the myriad ‘car of the year awards’ dished out annually across the globe, the ‘EuroCarBody’ awards ranked the i40 Tourer – which has just hit the Australian market – ahead of an elite field of new-generation vehicles including the Audi A6 (second), Mercedes-Benz B-class (third), BMW 1 Series (fourth) and Mazda CX-5 (fifth).

This is the first time in the conference’s 13-year history that an Asian brand has received the gold award, which is billed as the highest accolade in car body engineering worldwide.

It is also the first time Hyundai has entered a vehicle in the event.

Now in its 13th year, the EuroCarBody conference brings together the top engineers from the world’s leading car and components manufacturers to study and assess what are considered to be the top new vehicles introduced in the current model year.

The car-makers responsible for these new models make detailed technical presentations and provide quite extraordinary access to the vehicle (in cutaways, bodies-in-white, and so on), leaving more than 500 delegates – their peers – and an 18-member international OEM panel of experts to evaluate them according to five categories: efficient development concept, effective material use and application, production efficiency, car-body-implied customer value and information content of the presentation.

Delegates are also provided with a set of standardised benchmarking data for all car bodies presented, which enables direct comparisons in areas such as weights, parts, materials, joining techniques and production specifics.

Out of a maximum 50 points, the i40 Tourer – which, as GoAuto has reported, could be joined by the sedan version here during 2012 – scored 37.98, making it a clear winner from the A6 (35.86) and B-class (34.66).

Other vehicles participating in this year’s event were the Range Rover Evoque, Opel Zafira, Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet.

In particular, the judges praised the i40’s “comprehensive engineering and effective development of materials, as well as the production efficiency”.

Recognition was paid to the use of high-strength steel and improved joints in the structure which, according to Hyundai, contribute to high energy absorption efficiency for the lightweight body and in turn provides increased safety to occupants in the event of a crash.

“The Hyundai i40 ranked first place in three of the five voting categories, namely in its production concept, customer value and the quality of the presentation itself,” the judges said in their closing report.

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“Its development concept and high-strength steel-based material-concept came in second place in the competition. In particular, it was the presentation of Hyundai’s self-developed body shop production innovations that won the audience over.

“With extremely flexible locators, grippers, jigs and welding guns, the body shop in Ulsan, South Korea, allows for an extremely flexible and cost-effective production of a wide variety of models on a single production line.”

The i40 was designed and engineered in Europe and was recently awarded a maximum five-star safety rating from the European NCAP regime.

Hyundai this week described the EuroCarBody gong as “further independent evidence that our technology is market-leading”.

“Winning the EuroCarBody golden award demonstrates our commitment to providing the highest levels of safety for Hyundai customers,” said Hyundai Motor Europe senior vice-president and COO, Allan Rushforth. “We will continue our efforts for ever-better technology to protect passengers and improve all aspects of vehicle performance.”

As well as handing kudos and marketing advantages to Hyundai, this significant award demonstrates that the global car industry considers the new i40 to be at the forefront of modern vehicle engineering and production.

It gives Hyundai’s competitors a strong understanding of the company’s position in world engineering terms, and, as top engineers attested to at the event, the information on the i40’s development will now feed back into their own vehicle programs and strategies for the future.

In an interview with GoAuto at the launch of the i40 Tourer this month, Hyundai Motor Europe chief designer Thomas Burkle – who oversaw the i40’s design – described the car as a “breakthrough” for the company.

“I think this car is a breakthrough to (Hyundai) becoming a truly modern premium brand and if the car is successful it will show that the customers of Hyundai are willing to follow this next step,” the ex-BMW designer said.

“This is the amazing thing we discovered we can give modern premium cars to the world and people are willing to buy them. So there is a lot of potential in the brand development and in the image development of the brand.”

He also said established prestige car-makers like Mercedes and BMW now faced a problem, particularly at the entry level, with Hyundai building higher quality and more technologically advanced cars at volume-car prices – as evidenced by i40 and its EuroCarBody gold award.

“This is a problem for BMW and Mercedes. Hyundai wants to become a high-quality player, not only in the world market but in specific markets like Europe (competing) eye-to-eye measured against the best like Volkswagen and Audi in terms of quality, in terms of design, in terms of fun to drive and in terms of environmental aspects,” he said.

“The goal is to grow in quality. It is not the (primary goal) to grow in volume faster than Toyota and so on. The goal is to grow with lasting quality because that means you have better margins and that means that when there is a crisis, and ups and downs in the market, we are more stable.

“A company like Mercedes has to prove it is worth spending the money for the car. But the market analysis says that the brand loyalty of younger customers is not so strong. They are looking more at the product itself and this is where we want to be strong and where we want to offer a true alternative.”

Hyundai Motor Co Australia’s marketing director Oliver Mann said of the EuroCarBody win: “Hyundai’s European design team is proud of i40 Tourer’s beautiful design and ultimate practicality. This latest accolade further demonstrates Hyundai’s commitment to design, innovation and quality.”

Last year’s winner EuroCarBody gold award winner was Audi with its A8, ahead of the Lexus LFA, BMW 5 Series, Volkswagen Sharan and Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The previous-generation A8 also won the gold award in 2003.

Mercedes took out the top prize in 2009 with the E-class, with the Jaguar XJ and Audi R8 Spyder second and third respectively.

Other previous winners include the Audi Q5 (2008), Fiat 500 (2007), Audi TT (2006), Mercedes S-class (2005) and Renault Modus (2004).

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