| Hyundai Motor Chairman Chung Mong-koo said just one sentence "This car is solid," after test-driving the company`s new LF Sonata sedan during his visit to the Namyang Research and Development Center in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province on Thursday. At the chairman`s compliment, the faces of Hyundai researchers who have been working on the new car`s development since 2011 have lightened up.
Chung test-drove the LF Sonata and its competitor, Toyota Camry, for comparison. He has concentrated great attention on Korea`s best-selling sedan to the extent that he has been briefed on the development process on a real-time basis. The new model is off to a good start, with 18,000 sales contracts signed up as of Thursday, the 11th day after its launch.
○ Sleepless at Namyang research center
Hyundai began the 450 billion won (425.6 million U.S. dollars) "Project LFT" in early June 2011. For a meeting on the project, senior officials from the Namyang research center, headquarters and overseas sales division gathered at the time.
The main topic at the meeting was German cars. "The attendees agreed that Hyundai cars fell short of German premium cars in areas that cannot be described in numbers," said Hwang Chung-yul, vice president of Hyundai뭩 Mid-Large vehicle PM Center. "Our ultimate goal was to build a vehicle that would be on an equal footing to European cars and a premium family car." The development team began with changing the chassis first. Researchers dismantled for analysis foreign competitors such as the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima. During the final stages of the development, they used to stay at work for three to four days a week without going home.
○ Nice with less makeup
In terms of design, the LF Sonata is noticeably different from its predecessor, the YF Sonata. "If the YF put on a lot of makeup to look good, the LF is a nice car even with less makeup," Hwang said. "There were clear pros and cons about the YF`s design, but it let many people know about Hyundai`s different design. This time, we pursued a popular sedan while maintaining the basic philosophy of embodying the beauty of nature," said Joo Byung-chul, a Hyundai executive in charge of interior design.
The LF Sonata`s promotional point is that it is a "car that runs well, turns well, stops well and is safe." Is it true? Park Byung-il, a Hyundai executive in charge of driving performance development, said that the LF has 2 meters shorter braking distance than the YF when the brake is applied at the speed of 100 kilometers per hour. In addition, the LF`s handling performance has improved so that the car moves as much as the driver turns the wheel, he noted.
○ Listening to netizens` criticism
Hyundai also listened to online criticism. "We took notes of online comments criticizing Hyundai, believing that they become `anti-fans` because they loved Hyundai," Hwang said. "Reading those comments, we thought we needed to go back to the basics."
Hence they worked hard on safety. "As the LF is a family sedan, It was important to build a car that can protect families under any circumstances," recalled Cha Seok-ju, an executive in charge of vehicle safety development. "Although the LF is 45 kilograms heavier than its predecessor since it is built with 2.4 times more advanced high strength steel, we improved its fuel efficiency by 0.2 kilometer per liter," said Jeon Je-rok, who supervised the powertrain system development.
After finding last August that water leaked into the Hyundai Avante`s engine room, the Sonata development team experimented by pouring water onto the hood and wind shied with a powerful hose. The water drained to both sides of the engine room.
In the domestic market, the LF Sonata has to compete with the Volkswagen Passat and the Toyota Camry. Hwang stressed that the LF is more than 14.15 million won (13,241 dollars) cheaper than the competitors but has more spacious interior and better frames.
Having completed the development of the LF Sonata, Hwang is now busy with "Project AG" for a new semi-large-sized sedan, which will be unveiled within this year. On Thursday, camouflaged new Hyundai and Kia models cruised on the research center`s test road.