The 2018 Winter Olympics that open Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are yielding millions of dollars in promotion for self-driving versions of Hyundai’s new Nexo hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle with photos, articles and videos circulating in every major global market.
Shrugging off his security detail’s concerns, the president of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, took a 15-minute, 4-mile (7-km) test ride in an autonomous Nexo Feb. 2 and delivered off-the-cuff remarks that must have delighted Hyundai management.
Usually thought of as a pro-worker, anti-big business leader, Moon boasted, “I am the first national leader to ride a self-driving car on a highway, and Hyundai is the first company in the world to produce a hydrogen-powered autonomous vehicle.”
Moon’s test drive originated at the starting point of an on-highway demonstration of three Nexo AVs and two AV-modified Genesis G80 luxury sedans also held Feb. 2. The cars traveled
90 miles (118 km) from Seoul to Pyeongchang in “hands-off” Level 4 autonomous mode at regular highway speeds of 62-68 mph (100-110 km/hr).
In Level 4 autonomous mode drivers can override the AV automatic control system if needed. The Nexos used their AV sensors and controls to automatically speed up and pass lagging vehicles along the route, change lanes as necessary, stop at toll booths and perform maneuvers needed to reach the destination in good time.
Moon recalled Hyundai’s origins with the rudimentary Pony compact sedan in 1975 and said the success of that vehicle in Korea and overseas markets left him deeply moved.
He told reporters he had been concerned Korea might be behind other nations in developing eco-friendly vehicles, but the ride in the autonomous Nexo showed him otherwise. He said that just as Hyundai had started with the Pony and quickly became the world’s sixth-largest automaker, Korea was increasing its capability in electric- and hydrogen-powered vehicles and would become a world leader.
The AV-equipped Nexos will be demonstrated to VIPs from around the world during the Olympics, including some of the key athletes who will participate. Hyundai is one of the largest sponsors of the Pyeongchang games.
It is not the first time Moon has touted Hyundai. During a state visit to China in December, he took senior Chinese government officials on a tour of Beijing Hyundai Motor’s new plant in Chongqing, accompanied by Hyundai vice chairman Chung Eui-sun, whom analysts believe will succeed his father, Chung Mong-koo as head of the Hyundai Motor Group.