DETROIT -- Albert Biermann had barely unpacked his bags in Seoul last April when his new boss, Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo, handed him an urgent assignment: to work some of his old BMW magic on the nearly completed Genesis G90.
Biermann, who led the development of such spirited sports cars as the M3 and M5 as head of BMW's M performance division, had just been hired by Hyundai to infuse its vehicles with some of the same driving characteristics as Germany's finest luxury cars.
But the G90 executive sedan -- which would serve as the flagship of South Korea's first homegrown luxury brand -- came with an additional mandate: a rear-seat ride that needed to please buyers in China and South Korea, where many well-heeled customers buy luxury cars to be driven by their chauffeurs.
"I almost spent as much time in the back of the G90 as driving the G90," Biermann, 58, joked during an interview at the Detroit auto show.
When the finished car emerged in South Korea (where it's called the EQ900) in December, then took the stand at the Detroit auto show the following month, it put the auto industry on notice. Hyundai, an upstart car company that began building its own engines only in 1991, had laid out a full-fledged product plan for its new luxury brand, with help from a cadre of executives poached from Bentley, BMW and Lamborghini.
Biermann, who spent 32 years at BMW, may be the most important of those hires. Chung is betting Biermann has the chops to teach a Korean team rich in technical talent how to match the German automakers' famous balance of luxurious isolation and precise performance.
It won't be easy to go up against a century's worth of automaking heritage, but Biermann said he sees his team making rapid strides. Steering response in the G90, for example, is much improved over that of the Equus it replaces.
Leading the engineers at Hyundai's test track in Namyang, Biermann thought of his own days as a rookie at BMW, learning the delicate art of tuning a suspension.
"To be honest," he said, "physics just don't change."
For the G90, Biermann said, Hyundai didn't use "the fancy stuff" -- no air suspension, rear-wheel steering or anti-roll stabilization, which would add too much cost to cars that must be priced, for now, below the German competition.
Indeed, Biermann's mission is to replicate not the BMWs of today but the BMWs that he tuned as a young man: those rock-solid, long-lasting machines that gave German cars their reputation for engineering.
"The chairman always is emphasizing that job No. 1 is quality, and not just for the first owner or leasing buyer, and not just for two or three years," Biermann said. "After 10 years, he wants quality levels to be the same as for a new car."