There will be a lot of vehicles worth a look at the upcoming North American International Auto Show, but none more than Hyundai’s ’15 Genesis luxury sedan. Some cars are important for what they are, others are important for what they represent. The new Genesis falls in the latter category.
It is the starting point for a sophisticated new design language that will migrate to Hyundai’s entire lineup of vehicles, and it is key to the automaker’s plan to conquer the automotive world.
Founded in 1967, Hyundai has gone from being a young purveyor of cheap cars with questionable quality to one of the world’s largest producers of high-volume mainstream cars and CUVs in little more than an eye blink in automotive terms. Along the way, it has earned top grades in quality, value and customer satisfaction.
Barely more than one new-product cycle ago, the only pieces missing in Hyundai’s plan to become a major full-line vehicle producer were establishing its own, distinctive design language and having a line of luxury vehicles.
The luxury products came first when Hyundai introduced the first-generation Genesis in 2008. At that time, executives freely admitted they did not have a home-grown design language strong enough to use for the automaker’s first true flagship, so they adapted a variety of design cues from existing luxury brands.
The result was the derivative design of the first Genesis, executed well enough to win a North American Car of the Year award and numerous others, including three years of Ward’s 10 Best Engines awards for its first-ever V-8.
Then came the new design language, Fluidic Sculpture 1.0. It is a brash, swoopy concept with dramatic arcs and curved surfaces that has enabled high-quality, but formerly plain-looking, cars such as the Sonata family sedan and Elantra compact to suddenly leap from the pack and win over legions of style-conscious buyers.
But like former BMW designer Chris Bangle’s short-lived Flame Surface Design, Fluidic Sculpture 1.0 does not translate well to all sizes and shapes of vehicles.
At the beginning of the last decade, Bangle complained BMWs were just different sizes of the same sausage. When he introduced Flame Surface Design on the original Z4, it was a striking departure for the German automaker.
Flame Surface Design turned heads to be sure, but it raised concerns among many customers, and company executives, that BMWs would cease looking like BMWs. It did not last long.
Fluidic Sculpture 1.0 was well received and not nearly as controversial, clearly playing a role in the success of the current Sonata and Elantra. But top brass in Seoul worried about where the evolution of 1.0 would take the automaker. They decided to switch gears.
The 2.0 version is more elegant, serious and adaptable. It has components, such as a standup hexagonal grille that easily can be adapted down the line on smaller cars and CUVs for a family resemblance, much like BMW, Mercedes and Audi grilles.
Thanks to FS 2.0, the ’15 Genesis makes the current version look positively dowdy. And now the new Genesis’ good looks will be passed down to all its siblings.
For those who still doubt Hyundai’s ability to keep climbing the automotive ladder, one need only look at how wrong skeptics have been in the past about its ability to compete in the U.S. or develop great powertrains.
Hyundai takes bold strides and then pauses to carefully listen to customers and critics. Then it adjusts, replaces executives who failed to meet objectives and takes another big step.
It is a young, relentless machine bent on crushing competitors by pleasing consumers. With a strong new design language in place, Hyundai now has all the elements it needs to begin its stated strategy of increasing the value of its vehicles rather than the volume.
The only thing that should put a bigger knot in the stomachs of competitors than FS 2.0 is the fact FS 3.0 already is under way.