Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Hyundai eyes BMW's dynamics technology

Both Hyundai and Kia must have done some serious benchmarking exercises of European medium and upper-end passenger cars to be able to determine where the epicentre of ride and handling expertise can be found.

It is not surprising therefore the Hyundai Motor Group has seized up a 30-years plus specialist within BMW to take oversee some new engineering projects relating to ride and handling dynamics, safety, reliability, not to mention the mitigation of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).

Albert Biermann will based at Hyundai's R&D Centre in Namyang, Korea, where he will lead the development of new high performance Hyundai and Kia models.

Biermann’s official title is “head of vehicle test and high-performance development at Hyundai Motor Group”.

Biermann does not join his new employer until 1 April 2015, but in the meantime, whenever he gets a spare moment as he glimpses across the snow covered mountains of his homeland, he will be focusing his mind on the new task that lays ahead, and with with which he has been charged.

Not only will he have to accommodate a new culture – working in a South Korean car company is a far cry from BMW in Munich where he has spent three decades breathing in the culture that is uniquely BMW, but he will have to gradually transfer his ideas and knowhow into a new organisation, with all its different departments. He will have to gently steer minds away from one pattern of thinking to one which is quite different. In the process he will no doubt introduce a new 'signature' into Hyundai and Kia products.

Biermann is not be the first to leave BMW for pastures new; a number of high profile men, for example have left Munich to join JaguarLandRover and, in the process helped to forge a new culture. Nor will Biermann be the last to leave BMW, for BMW is a hot-bed of engineering DNA that others seek to imbue, and in so doing have undertaken some legitmate “poaching”.

Where BMW failed before to make a business out of LandRover, the BMW ‘newcomers’ have proved that transformation of JaguarLandRover is possible, at least in the short term as well as possibly in the long term. The 'newcomers' also appear, at least on the surface, to have blended in with Indian and British thinking to form a united front.

And at Plant Oxford, where BMW produces the Mini, the activity has grown to such an extent that it has become a training ground for new engineers to join the BMW family. Plant Oxford has become another BMW plant, just like Hams Hall in the West Midlands. They are almost like 'home from home', so ingrained is the BMW way of thinking. 

And so it is that Biermann’s appointment is designed to accelerate the roll-out of new high-performance vehicles and technologies from Hyundai, as well as help to improve the dynamic capabilities of cars across the range.

The extent to which Biermann can be successful will be judged in the sales of Hyundai and Kia vehicles in markets where ride and handling matter, and where NVH forms an equally fine judgement.

The South Korean company proclaims that it intends to become a technical leader in ride and handling, producing vehicles that lead their respective segments for driver engagement. This can surely be taken as warning bells to others thinking of joining these markets where performance matters.

Those who follow powertrain development will be aware of the extent to which Hyundai already has employed European casting technology to the point that the company has become a serious player in the serious application of compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder blocks for passenger cars and trucks.

If Hyundai can do this with components hidden from view but which have a huge influence on engine performance and fuel economy, then there is every indication that Hyundai Motor Group is serious about its intentions regarding ride and handling, and NVH.

Time and again, BMW emerges in benchmarking exercises as a leader in its field. The vehicles have a “feel” all of their own, especially when moving at speed on demanding routes.

Biermann, 57, with more than 30 years of experience in the development of high-performance vehicles under his belt ought to know what to do to transform the Hyundai and Kia range of vehicles and make them “tick”.

Biermann’s current role is vice president engineering at BMW M Automobiles and BMW Individual at BMW M GmbH, Germany, a position he has held since 2008.

He first joined BMW in 1983 and has played a key part in honing the performance and dynamics of some of the marque's most acclaimed road and race cars.

Biermann said, "I couldn't be more excited to join Hyundai Motor Group. It is a company I have watched closely as it has taken on its key competitors and quickly established a strong customer base in Europe. 2015 is a key year for the brand with the launch of many all-new models."

Woong Chul Yang, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Company and head of Hyundai-Kia R&D Center, is equally full of bonhomie: "This is a senior engineering appointment and an important part of our effort to further optimize the dynamics of our vehicles, providing even greater rewards for keen drivers.”

"Mr. Biermann has unrivalled credentials in this field and his expertise and experience will help us bring forward the development of new Hyundai and Kia cars that are great to drive, as well as speed the transfer of innovative technologies and insights between our road-car and motorsport engineering teams,” the Hyundai vice chairman added.

Earlier in 2014 Hyundai Motor Group opened its brand new European Test Centre at the Nürburgring in Germany, allowing the company to test more effectively and accurately the reliability and drivability of new vehicles.

Hyundai Motor Group will have had to do much by way of financial inducements to lure Biermann from his homeland – all the playing cards are in his hand! But taking optimising the dynamics of some new and quite different vehicles is not quite the same as moving to take charge of a new department at BMW where the engineering culture is already well steeped, even to the point of oozing out of the walls; added to which all the nuances of the German language are firmly understood.

The culture which is imbibed in the manufacture of BMW cars is the very same culture which produces fine motorcycles; as Albert Biermann knows only too well. It is the culture that has made Germany Europe's engineering centre.

However, Mr. Biermann at the very least will still be able to visit the Nürburgring which has so many reminders of another age.

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