FRANKFURT -- Hyundai Motor Co. plans to begin selling a high-performance line in 2017, possibly with new engines, crossovers and hybrid variants, to burnish its reputation amid flagging sales, led by the M Series chief engineer hired from BMW Group.
Under Albert Biermann, who joined the company from BMW in April, the focus on vehicle performance comes two years after Chairman Chung Mong-Koo promoted Peter Schreyer to oversee design at both Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors Corp.
The carmaker is showcasing three models from its N-brand high-performance line at the Frankfurt auto show.
The push to elevate performance comes as South Korea's largest carmaker, with its lineup of mostly sedans, misses out on the surge in demand globally for SUVs and crossovers.
It's also a continuation of the carmaker's years of efforts to upgrade its image from a maker of cheap, utilitarian cars.
"The next step is to increase the performance and to give our cars, when you drive the car, a little bit more of a driving character," Biermann, 58, told reporters. "We are really going for the established high-performance brands and want to compete with them."
Hyundai plans to improve and refine everything from the clutch paddle to the suspension when building N-brand vehicles to "change the character of the car," Biermann said.
The automaker is considering development of a new engine for the N series and may offer models in different segments, including SUVs, he said. Hyundai may also make hybrid N models, he said.
In Frankfurt, Hyundai is showing a preview of the latest World Rally Championship challenger, based on the new generation i20.
The second and third models will be the RM15 concept and the N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo concept, developed for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation racing game.
Although the N series will target a niche market of car enthusiasts, the technology will be incorporated into other Hyundai vehicles, enhancing the performance of the entire lineup, Biermann said.
"Once they find out how robust and reliable our high-performance cars are on the race track, they will buy our car," said Biermann, who spent more than three decades at BMW before joining Hyundai. "We will make some wild boys and girls at Hyundai N."