Leibovitz & Hyundai

Legendary photographer working with the car company

By Gary S. Vasilash

For those of a certain age, Annie Leibovitz is synonymous with some of the most classic covers of Rolling Stone of all time—when Rolling Stone was a journal that had massive resonance among those who were seriously interested in music.

Things change.

And now Annie Leibovitz is partnering with. . .Hyundai.

Annie Leibovitz for Hyundai. (Image: Hyundai)

She has shot eight Hyundai owners and 17 employees that are meant to “humanize the Hyundai brand,” according to Angela Zepeda, CMO, Hyundai Motor America.

Leibovitz is quoted about her motivation for what is being shown on HyundaiJourneys.com, “I grew up looking at the world through the frame made by the window of our family’s car. My dad equated driving with being alive, with living. When I was a young photographer, in the seventies, being on the road was at the heart of my work. I used time in the car as a think tank. It was so freeing.  There were so many incredible stories with this project.”

The work speaks for itself.

But it is a long way from John & Yoko.

How Hyundai Is Becoming a Mobility Company, Explained

Explained with a remarkable level of enthusiasm by Olabisi Boyle

By Gary S. Vasilash

Without question, Hyundai is one of the most innovative companies in the automotive industry right now. The company has on offer vehicles with traditional engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electrics, and even fuel-cells. It has a joint venture with autonomous tech supplier Aptiv that’s called “Motional” that is developing self-driving vehicle tech. It has an urban air mobility operation that is developing that mode of transport.

If it is just a consideration of what it has on the road in terms of its cars and utilities, the level of design exceeds that of most any other automaker that isn’t providing vehicles that start at six-figure levels.

And while it once was that its quality was cringe—worthy, in the 2021 J.D. Power U.D. Vehicle Dependability Study Hyundai ranks seventh and is well above average.

Hyundai’s Boyle: Helping make the transformation to mobility. (Image: Hyundai)

To learn more about the company, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk with Olabisi Boyle, vice president of Product Planning and Mobility Strategy for Hyundai Motor North America.

Her duties range from short-term planning to pricing, from analytics to strategy.

Boyle joined HMNA from Visa, where she had been the vice president of Connected Commerce.

As she explains to freelance writer Nicole Wakelin, Jeff Gilbert of WWJ 950, and me, she was recruited by Visa because they were interested in her background—which includes some 20 years at both Ford and what was then Fiat Chrysler. (She had been the chief engineer of the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.)

Notable for anyone in any industry, Boyle has a B.S. in industrial engineering from Columbia University, a M.S. in mechanical engineering from Columbia, and a B.S. in physics from Fordham University.

Just looking at her resume gives you the clear notion that this is someone who is really about achievement.

And the level of enthusiasm that she has is absolutely refreshing, as you clearly get the sense that she not only enjoys what she is doing, but that she recognizes that what she is doing is beneficial, not only for Hyundai, but for society at large (e.g., there are big efforts being made in the arena of using hydrogen for not only vehicles, but for other energy applications; this is a means by which there can be a significant reduction in carbon emissions).

You can see the interview with Boyle—as well as a discussion afterwards on a variety of topics, from EVs to the J.D. Power APEAL study—right here.

Hyundai Launching RoboShuttle Pilot Program

Level 4 capability is rolling in the streets of Sejong Smart City. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

Hyundai Motor Company—the parent organization of the firm that brings us Elantras and Tucsons and so on—announced it is launching a “RoboShuttle,” which is a Hyundai H350, light commercial, four-door van that is loaded with autonomous driving and artificial intelligence such that it will be able to transport people “with minimal intervention from a safety driver.”

Almost-autonomous vehicle. (Image: Hyundai)

More simply: this is going to be the basis of a ride-hailing service (there is the Shucle app developed by AIRS Company, which happens to be an AI research lab owned and operated by Hyundai). The system will determine the most-optimal routes based on demand.

The RoboShuttle will operate along a 6.1-km route—in Sejong Smart City, South Korea.

Think about that: “Sejong Smart City.”

It sounds exactly like the sort of place where there should be autonomous shuttles hailed by the Shucle app.

In the U.S. it is difficult to get the potholes filled in in many cities, and the South Koreans have established a city that is described as being smart.

A Thought About the Design of the Ford Maverick

Does an urban dweller want something that is Built Ford Tough or which smacks of fashion?

By Gary S. Vasilash

“One thing that’s non-negotiable is that Maverick is Built Ford Tough,” said Chris Mazur, chief engineer for the small pickup.

What seems a bit odd is that Ford says of the truck “The interior design is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city driving or escaping the urban life,” which seems to indicate that this is a vehicle for city dwellers.

Looks like a truck. Is a truck. (Image: Ford)

So this “Built Ford Tough” characteristic doesn’t seem to align with what would assume would be style-conscious urbanites—except for those who wear Carhartt.

As it starts under $20K and comes standard as a hybrid, there is a draw there.

But as Hyundai is coming with the Santa Cruz, a vehicle that is certainly more chic, it will be interesting to see which has greater appeal for those who want a “truck” but really don’t want a “truck.”

More on Hydrogen

Hyundai has a big slice of the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although the bullishness of Hyundai is something that yesterday’s piece on the XCIENT big-rig noted, we didn’t realize the magnitude of that commitment until we saw this pie chart from a research firm, Information Trends :

(Image: Information Trends)

Yes, that’s right, Hyundai has about 75% of the entire pie.

However, the pie needs to be put into some context:

According to the firm, approximately 8,500 passenger fuel cell vehicles (not big-rigs) were sold in 2020.

To put that into some context: Toyota sells more Camrys in a week in the U.S. than that total number of global fuel cell sales, so there is a way to go. Quite a way.

Hyundai Building Big With Hydrogen

“With 2021 XCIENT Fuel Cell, Hyundai will contribute to the widespread adoption of commercial vehicles powered by hydrogen.”– Jaehoon (Jay) Chang, CEO and President of Commercial Vehicle Division at Hyundai Motor Company

By Gary S. Vasilash

When people think about “electric vehicles” it tends to be in the context of a car like a Tesla Model 3 or if it is a truck it is the Rivian R1T. These are electric vehicles that are powered by electricity that is stored in a battery.

Fuel cell-powered vehicles are electric vehicles, too. The difference is essentially that instead of batteries there are high-pressure cylinders full of hydrogen that is then transformed on board—through the fuel cell—into electricity.

Using hydrogen to propel big rigs. (Image: Hyundai)

Both the traditional EV and the fuel cell vehicle then have electric motors that are used to propel the vehicle.

While most people, naturally, think of something that they might drive, a big impact both technologically and ecologically is going to be trucks—not F-150 Lightnings, but big rigs.

Batteries are heavy for sedans. They are even more massively heavy to move Class 7 and 8 trucks.

So hydrogen becomes a good alternative, especially as the amount of fuel that can be stored on board provides sufficient range, and the hydrogen tanks can be refilled within minutes, not hours as can be the case for battery recharging.

Hyundai has announced that it will begin production of its 2021 XCIENT Fuel Cell heavy-duty truck in August.

The vehicle has a 180-kW hydrogen fuel cell system and two 90-kW fuel cell stacks. There are seven hydrogen storage tanks that hold about 31 kg of fuel. That goes to power a 350-kW e-motor. The range is estimated to be about 400 km. Refueling time is from 8 to 20 minutes.

At present there are 46 XCIENTs rolling around Switzerland right now and Hyundai plans to ship an additional 140 to the country by the end of the year. It intends to have some 1,600 heavy-duty fuel cell electric trucks in Europe by 2025.

Yes, Hyundai is going to bring the model to the U.S. this year.

Hyundai Reveals the 2022 Santa Cruz

Four doors and a box on the back of a compact vehicle

By Gary S. Vasilash

Of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, which will be available late this summer, Jose Munoz, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor North America, says, “Our customers will wonder just how they managed before owning one.”

He also says the vehicle “breaks open all new segment territory, both for Hyundai and the industry as a whole.”

What is it?

A compact crossover with a box on the back like a tiny pickup. The bed length is 48.4 inches on the upper level and 52.1 inches below.

Think of it as about four feet.

Really not much for those who are looking for a pickup-like capability.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz. (Image: Hyundai)

But to be fair to the Santa Cruz, a 2010 Ford Explorer Sport Trac has a bed length of 49.2 inches, so the Santa Cruz is right there.

Which leads one to wonder about opening up a new segment.

One could argue that although the Honda Ridgeline is positioned as a pickup truck, it is in many ways like an Accord with a 63.6-inch box on the back instead of a truck (and the reference to the Accord is a good thing).

Which leads one to wonder about opening up a new segment. Or living without it.

Oh, well.

Hyundai isn’t referring to the Santa Cruz as a pickup. Nor is it calling it an SUV. Rather, it is a “Sport Adventure Vehicle.”

When BMW brought the X5 to market in 1999, it didn’t like the “sport utility vehicle” nomenclature. So it insisted that the X5 was an SAV—a Sport Activity Vehicle.

That didn’t stick.

In customer research, Hyundai found that people—“often living in urban environments”—wanted something that they could use for stuff, whether it is stuff that they bought at REI or Home Depot. Throw and go: the bed is ready to accommodate whatever.

Again, not a whole lot of stuff, but if you’re living in an apartment in an urban setting, you don’t have a whole lot of stuff.

Hyundai makes comparisons of the Santa Cruz with pickups. When it comes to beds, there is really no comparison—the Nissan Frontier is the next shortest, at 59.4 inches.

The Santa Cruz is wider than the Frontier—75 v. 72.8 inches—and just a smidge narrower than the Toyota Tacoma, which is 75.2 inches. The Tacoma, however, is 212.2 inches long, compared with 195.7 inches for the Santa Cruz.

A comparison with a traditional pickup doesn’t really play to the potential advantages of the Santa Cruz.

Credit to Hyundai to delivering on the concept that it showed at the North American International Auto Show in 2015 in a manner that looks extremely close to the show car.

Q1 Sales Surprises

Yes, customers are back. But some of what they’re buying is surprising.

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it was April Fool’s Day when the first quarter 2021 numbers for U.S. sales were announced by OEMs, the smiles were real in offices across the land as the SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate) rose to approximately 16.5-million units, or about a 12% sales increase compared to Q1 2020, which, of course, contained the first month of the pandemic in America.

2021 Toyota Prius Prime. There was a 70.6% sales increase for the model in Q1 2021. Who saw that coming? (Image: Toyota)

This wasn’t supposed to happen

Plenty of people who seem to have a particular affection for liking the use of fossil fuel and has therefore been gloating over the fact that Toyota Prius sales have been dropping must have gotten a surprise. Despite that fact gasoline prices have been low for the past several months and still under $3.00 per gallon ($2.85 in the U.S. as of now, according to the Energy Information Agency), Prius sales rose 22.4% in Q1, to 14,050 units. (For a not apples-to-apples comparison: Chevy sold 7,089 Camaros during Q1.)

What is more striking is that all Toyota hybrids had a combined 152% increase, to 125,318 units. (“Thank you, RAV4,” they must be saying down in Plano.)


The Big Three?

Remember when that was General Motors, Ford and Chrysler?

GM is still big. Overall sales of 642,250 vehicles.

The other Two, however:

Ford, including Lincoln, had sales of 521,334.

FCA, including Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, had sales of 469,651.

Toyota, including Lexus, 603,066. That’s a lot more than either Ford or FCA.


This wasn’t supposed to happen, 2

Everyone knows that (1) sedans are nearly dead in the market and (2) economical vehicles are so 2010.

Nissan, including Infiniti, had a good first quarter, with overall sales of 285,553 vehicles, which is a 10.8% increase over Q1 2020.

But there are two absolute standout vehicles in the Nissan lineup:

  • Versa: 22,394 vehicles, or an 83.9% increase
  • Sentra: 37,238 vehicles, or a 55.9% increase

Admittedly, crossovers like the Kicks (24,421 units) and the Rogue (86,720) were big contributors, the fact that the Versa and the Sentra did so well ought to make some analysts reconsider that whole “Cars are on life support” position.


This puts March 21 vs. March 20 in perspective

In March 2020 Hyundai delivered 35,118 vehicles.

In March 2021 Hyundai delivered 75,403 vehicles.

That is a 115% increase.

Still: Wear a mask.

Mike O’Brien and the Importance of Being There

Observations about how vehicle are developed and more. . .

Genchi gembutsu is one of the principles of the Toyota Production System. It essentially means, “go and see for yourself.” Don’t depend on a report about something. Get to the source of the matter and discover what’s going on for yourself.

Mike O’Brien, who spent some 14 years at Toyota North America, with his final position there as corporate manager, Product Planning, before moving on to Hyundai Motor America, where he spent over a decade, with his last position there being vice president, Corporate Planning, Product Planning and Digital Business, uses the term genchi gembutsu in the context of how vehicles should be developed.

Mike O’Brien believes there will be a shift in the market to more cars that people want just because rather than need, a shift driven in part by how the pandemic has changed working patterns that are likely to be the norm for some time to come. (Image: Hyundai)

That is, those who are involved in the development program need to go out to where the potential customers live and work and play so as to get an up-close look at what their behaviors are vis-à-vis the vehicle that they are working on. By doing that they can obtain a grounded sense of what is missing or what could positively add to the overall experience.

But genchi gembutsu is also a good term in relation to O’Brien, as he has been there, at the places where it happens, so on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” you can get truly informed insights on the current state of the auto industry.

While you often hear people talking about creating “white space” vehicles, O’Brien says that that is the exception, not the rule, because appropriate addressing customer pain points may be solved by doing a simple thing: He notes, for example, that an issue that some older people have is loading things into the trunk of their cars, so perhaps that can be addressed by modifying the lift-over height.

He says that companies talk about benchmarking, but he suggests that it is a method that will help with the creation of something that is about five years behind the curve by the time it is launched.

One of the points that O’Brien makes in his conversation with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jason Fogelson, freelance journalist, and me, is that coming out of the pandemic there is likely to be a decided market shift from “need” to “want.”

That is, he explains, take a typical two-car household. One of the spouses may now be working from home. Which means that the second vehicle may not be as necessary as it once was. Consequently, there may be a decision that the one vehicle that is in the household is something that does what needs to be done, but is something “special.” It could be a Bronco, Wrangler or something that doesn’t necessarily have off-road capabilities but aspects that the customers really don’t need, but want.

O’Brien discusses a number of other topics, ranging from traditional OEMs and EVs and why he thinks that hydrogen is a great solution for vehicle applications.

And you can see it all right here. —gsv

A Garage in Croatia

Millions of Euros for an up-and-coming EV OEM. . .

Although the classic Silicon Valley origin story has it that someone comes up with something in a garage and the rest is history, that story occurs in other parts of the world, as in Croatia.

There, a 21-year-old Mate Rimac in 2009 thought about the prospect of developing an electric supercar.

In 2011 he started Rimac Automobili.

And today Porsche announced that it was investing an additional 70-million Euro in the company so that it now owns 24% of Rimac Autmobili.

In 2019 Hyundai Group invested 80-million Euro in the company, so it, too, owns a chunk.

It is somewhat surprising to think that a small company could become important to larger OEMs.

Perhaps more surprising are comments from Lutz Meschke, deputy chairman of the executive board and member of the executive board for Finance and IT at Porsche: “Mate Rimac inspires us with his innovative ideas.”

Yes, a finance guy talking inspiration.

Meschke went on to note, however, “Our investment in the company has turned out to be absolutely right. Rimac’s value has increased many times since our initial investment.”

Porsche bought 10% in 2018.