TOKYO – Lee Hyun-soon, the veteran vice chairman of r&d at Hyundai Motor Co. who developed the automaker's first in-house engine, has resigned from the company.
Lee resigned March 15 for personal reasons, spokesman Frank Ahrens said.
His duties will be assumed by Yang Woong-chul, 57, currently president of the Hyundai Motor Research and Development Center in Namyang south of Seoul, South Korea.
Yang, who joined Hyundai in 2004, will keep his current title; there will be no new vice chairman.
Lee, 60, spearheaded the development of Hyundai's Alpha engine in 1991,the company's first proprietary internal combustion engine after years of sourcing power plants from Mitsubishi.
He also guided Hyundai through a remarkable period of growth, in which the Hyundai-Kia group became one of the world's biggest automakers. Early under his watch, Hyundai grappled with quality issues only to emerge as a leader in global quality surveys in recent years.
Still a cult hero among engineering students in Korea today, Lee pushed Hyundai in the direction of advanced drivetrains such as fuel-injected engines and hybrid systems.
The soft-spoken engineer oversaw construction of the sprawling Namyang tech center in 1996, filling in a swampy wasteland to create an r&d unit that commands 10,000 engineers worldwide.
Lee began his career at the General Motors Research Institute and joined Hyundai in 1984. He was promoted to vice chairman in 2009.
Yang is taking the reins with a specialty in alternative powertrains, including gasoline-electric hybrids and fuel cells. Hyundai is increasingly targeting those technologies as it competes globally with similar offerings from rivals such as Toyota Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co.
"We're trying to hedge our bets because there probably won't be just one answer," Ahrens said. "We're pursuing all alternatives very vigorously."