Hyundai's test bed for the future
Its R&D centre is one of four worldwide. Starting with the Eon, it will play a key role in Hyundai's product gameplan for India and support its global R & D initiatives.
“When we started, we were a team of 140. We are now over 500,” says 57-year-old Y S Roh, the soft-spoken managing director. From a 27,200 square feet rented premises to a 172,000 square feet property in a self-owned 15-acre plot, HMIE has grown over the last three years. This growth is fueled by the fact that going forward, Hyundai Motor India Ltd (HMIL) will have to build more cars that cater to the requirements of customers unique to India, not to mention the rich engineering pool that Hyundai can tap. That’s is possibly why India was chosen as the fourth country, outside Korea, where Hyundai has a R&D centre. The other centres are in Japan and USA.
HMIE’s first major project was the Eon, Hyundai’s first entry-level car in India. It is also Hyundai’s smallest car globally. “We have done B and C-segment models. The Eon is the first A-segment car we worked on," says Roh. The car is being seen as a formidable competitor to the Maruti Alto, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the segment so far.
The sense of satisfaction and pride that the Eon team has was evident when I met them in early December. Sai Kiran, who signed up two years ago, says: "This is my first job”as he shows me the virtual crash test process of the Eon at his workstation. The Eon has been physically crash-tested at Hyundai’s main R&D Centre in Namyang, South Korea.
So, how close, or far, are the results of various tests in the virtual space and the actual world? “Around 90 percent. It will reduce further as we go ahead,” says a senior manager. Sai’s colleague Karthik S J, who has an M Tech (CAD), and has spent six years at Hyundai, shows me another CAE process. After meeting the engineering team, I move upstairs to the design team. This team played an equally important role, if not more, in the Eon project. Unlike the relatively serious CAE floor, the ground floor is colourful and vibrant. One of the walls displays a variety of design elements, some of them with a strong Indian influence. The team works on CAD (Computer Aided Design) and CAS (Computer Aided Styling). Designers put in a lot of research into something as basic as colour.
During the development stage of the Eon, designers took colour cues from architecture in Indian heritage. “To arrive at the Eon’s exterior colour, we basically chose three themes – Indian heritage, understated luxury and temptation,” says Naga Sai, a fashion technology graduate. Indian heritage was divided into three – Dravidian, Mughal and Indo-Saracenic. In all, 26 different shades were sent to Hyundai HQ. The Eon was finally launched with six colour options.
At the centre, work has already begun on Hyundai’s global project. “We provide engineering and design support to Hyundai models in Europe and the US. Some have been introduced and others are likely to in the future,” says Roh. Hyundai not only has to protect the work that’s being done at the Centre but also the people doing it. New players entering the Indian market are also building their R&D capabilities here. A career in R&D at a global OEM like Hyundai makes them attractive candidates for rivals’ R&D setups. Therefore, it has becoming increasingly important for HR to offer more than just good salaries. HMIE provides facilities like a gymnasium and a cafeteria with a Café Coffee Day outlet. A landscaped garden next to a cricket field gives the fitness-conscious designers and engineers a place to unwind. Hyundai is putting efforts to attract and retain Indian talent as it invests to make the Hyderabad centre a ‘global R&D centre’.
The centre is also expected to ‘further accelerate local content development and enable Hyundai to respond even more quickly to changing customer needs worldwide’. The next automotive concept creation is tipped to be one that falls in a new but fast-growing segment, and will be unveiled at the Auto Expo in January.
Making of the Eon
Eight hundred kilometres away from Hyderabad is where the efforts of the Namyang and Hyderabad R&D centres are put into commercial production at HMIL's Chennai plant. The Hyderabad centre worked in coordination with Namyang R&D to develop the Eon.
Like the designers and engineers at the technical centre, a set of people at the Chennai plant also made significant contributions in the development and production of Hyundai's smallest hatchback. A team comprising engineers, shopfloor employees and others went to South Korea during the development process of the Eon.
The prototype was built in July 2009 followed by the first level of trial production in Namyang. The Namyang R&D centre is equipped with a replica of a production plant where the Indian team participated hands-on in the development stage.
The Eon project shifted to India from the second stage of pilot production in 2010. Around 200 cars were built and tested for a cumulative one million-plus kilometres before it reached commercial production stage in September 2011. During the test phase, further Indian inputs got into the car. T Sarangarajan, vice-president, Passenger Car I & II Unit, HMIL, gives me one example. “In Korea, the tailgate-opening cable is pasted on the floor. But in India, during testing we have seen that it doesn’t stay fixed because of the high vibration due to rough road conditions. So, instead of pasting it, we have a welded clip to hold the cable firmly,” he says. There are more that Sarang, as he’s known within Hyundai, shares with Autocar Professional:
Tailgate hinge: The tailgate hinge tends to over-travel, leading to deformation of panels. HMIL modified the profile to restrict the over-travel. This was implemented in the design and the company was able to eliminate the problem.
Fuel pipe improvement: In India, rats tend to nibble at fuel pipes which are made of rubber or other soft material. To overcome the problem, HMI suggested a corrugated cover in hard plastic which would be difficult for rats to gnaw. This was accepted by the R&D centre in Korea and implemented not only in the Eon but also applied to other models.
Rear bumper reinforcement: Rear bumpers made of plastic tend to get deformed easily, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Even a low-impact touch by a two-wheeler is enough to deform the bumper. Rear bumper strength was enhanced by adding reinforcements without cost increases to prevent deformation during minor shunts.
Improvement in protecting from water entry: Customers or dealers in India like to wash the engine bay with high-pressure water. This is not usually the case overseas. There are many wires that may let water enter the body from the engine bay. So water-proof connectors were added in the engine room. Also, rubber rings were put in all wire holes in the body to act as sealants. HMIL simulates monsoon conditions in a special soak test where the car is driven through two and two-and-a-half feet of water. This test detects leaks which would otherwise pass the regular shower test. Most of the above inputs by the Indian plant into the Eon are also being implemented in other models in India and in Korea.
Partners in progress
The vendor community is increasingly playing an important role in the development of new models. The Eon, which has 80 vendors, was no exception. The supplier of even a relatively less critical component like the wiper was also in Korea during the developmental stage.
Hyundai may be relatively more comfortable in sharing information, as it has a stake in the majority of its vendors. “Sixty percent of our vendors are joint ventures. Vendors to the Eon are from our existing vendor base except two,” says SVN Prasad, GM – Production Planning & Control, HMIl. Hyundai claims that the Eon was not developed and built against any other car (read Alto) in mind. But at Rs 2.69 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), it is priced competitively against the likes of the Alto and the Chevrolet Spark. Did the team achieve the cost target set right at the beginning? “The initial target was met, but not at the beginning. A lot of value engineering went into the car to reduce cost, but without compromising its features," says a senior manager at the R&D centre.
Hyundai’s teams in India and at the global headquarters have reason to be happy the way its maiden A-segment car has come out. The first export batch of the car has just rolled out of the assembly line to woo customers overseas.
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