You are here
The heart and Seoul of future-ready cars
CAR shows are famous for showcasing futuristic concept models or high-performance machines. But at the Singapore Motorshow 2018, some of the most exciting cars have come from an unexpected place: Korea.
Between them, Hyundai and its affiliate Kia are launching a variety of new cars that demonstrate just how ambitious the country's carmakers are, with models that any serious car buyer would find impossible to ignore.
Globally, Hyundai-Kia have made it a habit to punch above their weight. Their combined sales reached 7.25 million cars last year, which should rank them fifth among the world's car giants (not every car company has released full year sales figures).
That feat means the Koreans have overtaken car companies that have been in the business for twice as long. Hyundai built its first car only in 1967, a full five years after The Beatles recorded their first single.
While the Kia Stinger, a sleek and powerful grand tourer, represents the flashy side of Korean ambition, it's the cars that Hyundai is showing at Suntec Singapore International Convention And Exhibition Centre that really encapsulate the strategy behind the group's rapid rise.
Take the i30, for example. The five-door hatchback competes head-on with the Volkswagen Golf, which is traditionally Europe's best-selling car.
After three years selling cars in Europe, Hyundai decided that in order to be competitive there, it would set up shop there. It opened a technical centre in Germany in 2003, where the i30 was designed and engineered.
Ninety per cent of the cars sold by Hyundai in Europe are created there, and the company said it is now so established there that its presence accounts for 155,000 jobs in the region.
The i30 effectively gives Singaporeans the chance to buy a German car at a bargain price. The Hyundai costs S$93,999 (with COE), while the Golf is priced at S$112,400 (with COE). Both cars have a twin-clutch transmission with seven speeds, but the Korean model's 1.4 litre engine, with 138hp, delivers significantly more punch than its German rival's 1.0 litre engine.
Yet, the rise of Korea's car industry has been so swift that public perception threatens to lag behind. Hyundai and Kia have beaten rivals to countless design and quality awards.
In other words, their cars no longer have to catch up to those of the Japanese. Instead, it's the buyers who have to catch up to how good Korean cars are.
But that could take time.
"In electronics, the Koreans could come up with a television set with double the warranty and half the price. With motorcars you can't do that," said Teo Hock Seng, managing director of Hyundai importer Komoco Motors.
Perhaps eye-catching designs can help.
The Hyundai Kona, for example, is a Sport Utility Vehicle with striking looks that could just as easily have come from a French or Italian car company. It bears little resemblance to other Hyundais, and is an example of how its maker is able to cater to a broad range of tastes.
The Kona itself is available with everything from a frugal 1.0 litre turbo engine with a manual gearbox for S$86,999 (with COE), to a 1.6 litre turbo with 174 horsepower for S$128,999 (with COE). That makes it more powerful than many rivals, whether from Japan or Germany.
Both versions of the Kona exemplify a now-familiar strategy: either undercut the competition like the 1.0 model, or offer more than they do, like the 1.6 does.
But if any car embodies Korea's long-term ambition, it is the Ioniq Electric. The battery-powered car costs S$149,888 (with COE), which makes it the most affordable electric car in Singapore. It can travel 280km on a single charge, and Hyundai said it uses less electricity than BMW's acclaimed i3. Ioniq Electric's lithium-ion battery is guaranteed for 10 years.
While the appeal of an Electric Vehicle (EV) usually lies in the silence and instant acceleration that motors offer, Hyundai offers buyers the chance to enjoy the technology at less cost than old-fashioned, fossil fuel engines.
Mr Teo said an Ioniq Electric would be so cheap to run that anyone who chooses one over a 1.6 litre Japanese car would save money after only three years of ownership. That's because 100km of travel in the Ioniq Electric costs S$2.80 in electricity consumption - the same distance would cost five times as much even in a moderately-efficient, petrol car.
But EVs have been a tough sell in Singapore. At the end of November last year, there were only 93 of them on the road.
Hyundai and its importer are confident that if any car can crack that market, the Ioniq Electric is it.
"Why can't we bring in EVs? We'd like to showcase that as far as motorcar research, production and the capability to put an advanced car on the road go, we're there," said Mr Teo.
What the Ioniq Electric really demonstrates is that Korea is readying itself for the end of the fossil fuel era, as countries around the world announce impending bans on petrol and diesel power.
"If China is going all electric by 2030, we've got to wake up, don't we? One day, the electric car will take over, and we'll be pollution-free," said Mr Teo.
In other words, who needs a futuristic concept car when a future-ready car is already here?