June 25, 2018

Spider Eyes Help Hyundai Heir Design Its Cars of the Future

Author : Sohee Kim / Publisher: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Hyundai Motor Group's vice chairman, Chung Eui-sun, is counting on bugs and holograms to help the South Korean automaker stay relevant amid a flood of electric-vehicle startups, ride-sharing services and driverless cars.

During an exclusive interview at ZER01NE, an innovation center in Seoul where Hyundai incubates startups and designers, the 47-year-old Chung said parts affiliate Hyundai Mobis Co. will help lead the world's fifth-largest automaker into the future.

Chung, whose grandfather started the Hyundai empire in 1947 as a construction company, needs to revive a carmaker that delivered its lowest profit in a decade because of slumping sales in China and the U.S.-- the two biggest markets.

His strategy includes importing talent from foreign brands such as Audi, Bentley and BMW, and transforming Mobis into a technology-centered supplier to challenge Germany's Robert Bosch GmbH with software, artificial intelligence and robotics.

The following excerpt has been translated from Korean, condensed and edited.

Bloomberg: How can Hyundai survive in the era of future mobility?
Chung Eui-sun: In the era of robotics, the auto industry may see a significant sales drop. The profits in new technologies such as software and artificial intelligence could exceed the amount of losses. And Hyundai Mobis will lead that change in the group.

The cultures of manufacturing companies and tech firms are so different. It is important to focus on fostering a company that can move ahead with technology developments. In this sense, we are studying the reorganization plans of other automakers such as Toyota and Mercedes-Benz that boosted their IT business by setting up new entities.

China has become the powerhouse of electric vehicles. What are Hyundai's strategic plans for alternative-energy cars in the market?
Chinese consumers are showing great interest in fuel-cell cars, compared with battery electric vehicles. There is great potential to increase the fuel-cell car market in China. I believe China wants to go along with EVs and FCEVs. We are reviewing the best way to introduce our fuel-cell cars in the country.

How do you foresee the industry in the longer term as mobility-service companies become more popular?
A decade or two from now, I think Uber and Grab may share stakes with automakers and form an alliance. I cannot rule out a possibility that Uber or Google may acquire auto companies. Being on an equal footing, Hyundai may consider buying carmakers or tech firms.

Achieving high-level technology is a key for having negotiating power. It is our goal to stand at the front line amid the industry's changes. We have many hurdles to overcome.

What kind of new technology is Hyundai studying?
I just met people from the Rhode Island School of Design here. We are cooperating with the design center to study insects, such as the aerodynamics of perfect flying and their structures. Their skins, antennae and joints are subjects we study for mobility technology. For instance, spiders have eight eyes, while autonomous cars are equipped with more than 10 camera sensors such as LiDAR and radars. There are limitless features to learn from insects.

What kind of "Wow!" technology does Hyundai have that can you share with us?
We'd like to be far ahead of everyone else in hologram technology. We are working on holograms that can be displayed inside the car on dashboards and even in the passenger seats. It can be controlled with voice system. While you are driving, a secretary or wife can be sitting next to you as a hologram.

Like the table scene in "Kingsman: The Secret Service"?
Yes, there are many answers in movies. We'd like to show it as soon as possible.

To contact the author of this story: Sohee Kim in Seoul at skim847@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net, Anand Krishnamoorthy

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