Saturday, August 29, 2015


Now here’s a proposition!

No history, no legend, no racing trophies, just unadulterated luxury. You buy it because you want it.

The Hyundai Genesis. 

It’s a luxurious car in the purest sense, but sold without any explanations for its existence.

Not only that, you buy one at your local Hyundai dealer!

No separate upmarket dealer network, with pretensions to exclusivity, like Lexus.

Now that’s Hyundai either being pragmatic or preposterously pompous.

Actually I think it’s the former.

The Genesis marks Hyundai’s bold gamble to position its pinnacle model in the luxury car clubroom with no apologies for seeking to join the club. I can imagine discussions in the Hyundai Board Room:

Director 1: “Do we need to invest in a separate dealer chain to sell this car?”
Director 2: “What and pretend it’s not a Hyundai?”
Chairman: “No to both ideas, we don’t need to try and pretend Genesis isn’t made by Hyundai, we just need to make sure it has the right credentials when we put it out there.”

I can tell you the Genesis has those credentials, and a quick look at sales numbers from the its launch market, the USA, affirms its growing awareness, and welcome from American luxury car buyers, in the world’s toughest market for cars with premium pricetags. In 2015, year-to-date sales (at end of July) are 19,744 – versus 17,036 to end of July 2014.

In Australia, YTD sales to end of July 2015 saw Genesis climb to fourth place, and a market share of 1.5%, behind Commodore, Falcon and Aurion. There are just over 330 Genesis sedans in Aussie garages this year.

Positioning Genesis in this sector in Australia is really not a fair comparison. Its pricetag is considerably higher than its Down Under competition, because of equipment levels and the cost of development. Also, the car was primarily developed for the American market, where it competes directly with higher-grade luxury cars than Commodore, Falcon or Aurion. So I intend to treat it in that light.

In the USA, up against Lincoln, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lexus, the Genesis is right there. Boosted by excellent equipment levels, and the additional choice of a 5-litre V8 engine, Genesis is able to hold its own.

If you look at Genesis as a ‘Mark of Competence’ for Hyundai then it meets and exceeds expectations. It certainly gets a big tick from me.

It is not, however, a sporty car to drive.

Yes, it’s competent, with a big footprint on the road (245/45 x 18 Hankook Ventu Prime 2 tyres), but it’s not a car that invites you to press on, as you might in a Jaguar or BMW.

Ride and handling is fine, but rear axle location and isolation is poor, and when you’re thumping along on indifferent surfaces, you get the occasional bang from the rear end as the axle hops around.

But, guess what? It was developed for smooth roads in the 50 States of America, and in that context I doubt you would ever feel a thump from the rear axle.
It would never be driven that hard.

The 3.8 litre V6 engine is responsive and smooth, but delivers a throaty roar when you open the throttle.

The Hyundai-made 8-speed auto however, always has the right ratio available, and on a twisty blacktop it’s a delight to drive using the paddles. Upshifts and downshifts are fast and seamless.

Although it's a torque-converter transmission (as opposed to dual-clutch 'transmissions-du-jour') this 8-speed is technologically very advanced boasting light weight, innovation and robust design, plus big performance improvements, compared to the previous ZF-supplied 6-speed unit.

My test car car is a DH (second generation) mid-spec Genesis Sensory, priced in Australia at $71,000, which quite frankly is pretty steep, but you do get a lot of gear for the money.

As a ‘limousine’ it’s great – quiet, powerful, luxurious and comfortable. However, the Hankook tyres are very sensitive to the road surface below them, and coarse tarmac increases road noise.

Hyundai says it benchmarked the original BH concept Genesis against BMW 530i, and one US writer summed up the car by saying he thought it compared technically to a BMW 5 Series, with the space and luxury of a 7 Series, and the pricetag of a 3 Series!

It has the required luxury accoutrements, but not a long line of historic predecessors. 

You know what? It doesn't matter.

Hyundai approached the challenge from a different direction. It has tuned the technical items, and added loads of equipment, but nothing about it is lavish. Looking at US sales, which have climbed 16% this year, underplaying it may well be its main attraction. It's a 'quiet achiever'.

The seats for example are covered in real leather, but the interior doesn’t smell like you walked into a Coach store.

This year, though, Genesis has overtaken Cadillac and is closing rapidly on the key Europeans! That would suggest that not only has this been a marketing exercise which has paid off, but it has also shifted buyers perceptions of Hyundai’s competence, and THAT is really important.

The original BH Genesis concept debuted in New York in 2007, and I think the styling is showing its age. I certainly don’t think Peter Schreyer has passed his Pentel over the shape yet. Stand back when he does!

I think the sense of understatement and confidence which Genesis represents is what appeals to me.

Get used to Genesis being part of the premium automotive landscape. It has all the credentials that should earn it a top spot in a luxury car buyer's list of choices.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


A Reuters story today by Jonathon Stempel says that ten of the world's biggest carmakers were sued on Wednesday in the US Federal Court by a lawsuit from 28 plaintiffs, which claims the carmakers concealed the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in more than 5 million vehicles, equipped with keyless ignitions, resulting in 13 deaths.

According to the lawsuit, the problem arises when car owners drive into their garages, and then enter the house, leaving the engine running, which is emitting the colorless, ordorless, gas into the garage, until the engine shuts off.

Before you say: "What??" That's a frivolous lawsuit, don't ya love the land of litigation? Let me explain:

Wherever you live in the USA, North, South or in the Middle, when you drive into your garage you want to get away from the weather, and shut the door.

You're either escaping the freezing cold, the high heat or humidity that could axphixiate you. Now, check my simple diagram.

With a keyless ignition system, which works on the proximity of the key to the vehicle (like Bluetooth), if (after you've entered the house) you do not move far enough away from the vehicle, or until the timer automatically shuts the engine down - the car will keep running, emitting noxious gases into the garage.

There is the possibility that you could re-enter the garage, breathe in the deadly gas and die. According to the lawsuit, 13 people have died this way, because of this keyless technology.

Okay. Here's where technology can make us lazy. If you do exactly what I've outlined here, there certainly IS the possibility of death arising from a continually-running engine.

However, the possibility can be COMPLETELY AVOIDED if owners of cars with this feature simply press the ENGINE STOP button before they get out of the car, rather than trust the car to turn off quickly, automatically. It's as simple as that.

I think that instead of litigating, and trying to shift blame to carmakers for inventing this feature, maybe they should have all thrown money into a national public awareness campaign to tell people to shut off the engine themselves, immediately after they enter an enclosed space!

See, problem solved. And all without a costly lawsuit.


I am about to post a couple of stories relating to the marriage of high technology and cars. The first may seem self-explanatory from the news report from CNBC, but more discussion (my opinion) will follow:

Firstly, having lived and worked in the USA and the American auto industry, I can say unequivocally that J.D. Power & Associates is the highest integrity research company I have come across. They are meticulous in everything they do.

However, the findings of this research are NOT surprising to me. How many new digital cameras have you seen, or purchased, with so many features you are not only powerless to understand the functions, but in many cases there are more features than you will ever use?

Such is the case with auto tech. Too much tech, and in many cases, too little true relevance to actual need. It seems like the tech is being built in, simply because the carmakers are capable of inventing it, and including it.

What too much tech can do, is make people lazy. The post which follows this one will illustrate the deadly consequences of laziness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


My very first exposure to a Korean car was in 1993, when a friend and I rented a 'Built-in-Seoul' Pontiac Le Mans hatchback at Los Angeles airport.

We drove it four miles south on Interstate 405, took the next exit, returned to the airport rental desk and asked for another car. The Le Mans was a dog!

We had engine fumes in the cabin, the car jumped out of 4th gear, and the fuel gauge did not work! The rental agent sighed, took the keys and instantly upgraded us to a Chevrolet Cavalier! Wow! The Cavalier was built in the USA, but was barely any better. In 1993 GM quality was crap!

Fast forward to 2015 and I’m driving the latest Kia Cerato Si hatch, and what an impressive car it is.

Kia is actually Korea’s oldest-established car manufacturer. It began in 1944, and started building cars in 1974 at its Sohari facility. Its early cars were Mazda clones, so when Ford Motor Company acquired a share of both Mazda and Kia, Kia Motors built the Mazda 121 rebadged as the Ford Festiva.

It is clear that Kia has been on a fast-learning track, as its cars improved dramatically year by year at a faster rate than any company I’ve come across. 

Despite the fact Hyundai now controls Kia, I think Kia tail is wagging the Hyundai dog, in terms of design.

Mind you, this is a purely personal opinion, but after a week with the Cerato Si hatch and the opportunity to look at the assembly quality and test drive the car, it’s clear why the Cerato is rocketing up the sales charts in Australia.

Kia is pushing (more like shoulder-charging) into the market alongside serious competitors like Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, Mazda and Toyota. From 2009 through 2013, just over 26,000 Ceratos were sold, and YTD 16,600 of the new (YD) model have raced out of Kia dealers.

Year to date (end of July 2015), here are the latest sales stats:
Kia Cerato                 +58.6%
VW Golf                     +13.7%
Toyota Corolla         - 2.5%
Mazda 3                    -10.4%
Honda Civic              -48.4%
Ford Focus                -53.6%
(Source: vFacts)

The team at Kia Motors Australia must be beaming, especially when looking at combined sales of Cerato, Sportage, Optima, Sorrento and Rio. Kia Motors Australia is on a roll.

Company insiders tell me a recent survey of customer satisfaction has yielded impressive results, and the addition of a 7-Year Warranty has ‘settled the horses’. Is a Kia a safe bet as an investment in a new car? Certainly seems that way.

Okay, enough of the business flim-flam, what about the Cerato Si?

Looking at the road ahead, the specs are impressive. It boasts a direct-injection 2-litre engine with output of 129kW.

Matched to a well-programmed six-speed auto transmission, the car goes really well. The transmission is made in-house and the shifts are silky smooth.

Punch the accelerator to the floor and a throaty roar accompanies your rush to 100 km/h in 9 seconds. Mind you, as a reader of this Blog you know I don’t get involved in measuring, or quoting performance data. It’s either good or it’s bad, and the Cerato Si is very good!

When the road gets twisty the Australian-spec Cerato is a great drive. A very well-funded and experienced local team led by a highly-experienced Australian automotive engineer fettles the Australian-spec cars.

The package includes all suspension components - springs, dampers and sway bars. They are all uniquely-specified for Australian cars.

The factory slots the Aussie team’s input into the build menu, so the Kia cars we get Down Under are a delight in terms of ride and handling. The secondary ride comfort is exceptional.

Also, the electrically-assisted steering, which is modified by the Australian team, is the best I’ve sampled in a mass-market car. It’s direct and offers good feedback.

Where I’m heading in this review is that the Kia Cerato Si hatch matches and exceeds many of its higher-priced competitors, including those from Europe.

In the opening paragraphs I painted a picture of Korean-manufactured cars as basically rubbish. However, today’s Korean cars are world-class, and at least the equal in terms of specifications, performance, material quality, and fit and finish. The instrument pack in the Cerato is excellent.

As my photos reveal, the trim margins, material quality and attention to detail in assembly is top notch. The standard equipment is highly competitive, but I do think Kia needs to work on its AV system.

Using an iPod, the display on the screen is very inconsistent. You often get the cover art from one album, blended with the song title from another, whilst the song that’s playing is completely different! What?

At one point the system switched over to playing all songs, alphabetically! Then, next time the ignition went on, it changed to playing songs by artists' names beginning with 'B'. Huh?

Setting up iPhone bluetooth was quick and easy however. The system seems intuitive, but maybe needs a software/firmware update to resolve how the head unit deals with the metadata on the Apple device.

With a wheelbase of 2.7 metres the cabin offers excellent interior room front and rear, and again the quality of materials is impressive.

Another exemplary feature is the strength and rigidity of the body. Torsional stiffness has been increased by 37% over the previous model.

Also 63% use of high-strength steel makes an excellent contribution to crashworthiness.

Don’t even begin to think about Kia cars as some rough and shoddy Asian-manufactured, low priced rubbish!

This car proved to me that Kia management knows exactly how to reach its buyers’ rational thought processes, when they are weighing up their options. 

If you need the reassurance of a 7-year warranty, then fine.

But, believe me the Kia Cerato Si hatch is totally competitive – in every area.

It's Magic!

Sunday, August 23, 2015


The impact of Peter Schreyer’s appointment as Head of Design for Kia Motors in 2006 has had a definitive effect on Kia’s growing global sales.

All of a sudden cars which were described as being ‘design neutral’, had adopted a personality, a distinct design signature, and a boldness in metal forming hitherto unknown at Kia Motors.

Kia style at the Geneva Salon 2014
The 'Concept 3' - a mini SUV revealed the 'Tiger Grille' for the first time in 2011.

Kia Concept Number 3
There has been a range of Kia concept cars and designs driven by Schreyer and his young Korean and American understudies which have added flair and confidence to the brand.
Kia 'Ray' concept car

Having spent a week driving the current Kia Cerato Si hatch I am not only impressed by its quality, value, and design excellence, but it has pushed me to highlight the many other areas where Schreyer’s influence has been reflected in recent Kia cars.

Cerato front lampset detail
A skilled designer in a strong position within a car company is able to dictate many more things outside just the design challenges.

Such is the case with Schreyer’s arrival at Kia Motors. It is obvious to those of us who have spent our lives in the car industry that Schreyer carries influence way beyond that of Chief Designer.

The Cerato Si hatch reveals an attention to detail in choice and quality of materials, design innovation, and consistent production values which are immediately obvious.
High quality materials and tight fit margins are a feature of current Kia models, like the Cerato Si hatch

Kia Novus concept. Clearly shows links to Optima production car

Kia Optima
Looking back to a recent drive in the Optima sedan I decided to look in detail at some of the brave design decisions, which ultimately present a challenge to toolmakers, closure teams and production engineers.

Arrows note very risky shutlines on Optima trunklid
The profile of the rear trunklid is an obvious focus. The margins between the gaps surrounding both metal and composite components is very impressive. In production it is very difficult to achieve a high rate of consistency in areas like this.

Arrows highlight equally tight margins for the front hood
It's the same for the margins (gaps) along the form of the hood (bonnet); and in the case of the Cerato, the “Schreyer” grille is a piece of sculpture, on par with Mercedes-Benz's ‘Diamond Grille’ in the CLA.

"Schreyer" grille on Cerato Si hatch

There are many other design elements in the Cerato, which Schreyer has been careful to moderate, for fear of making the car too outrageous.

Firstly, the A-pillar is set well-forward in the theme of a 'cab-forward' style.

This allows front vision to be improved with a small quarter window.

Then the front roofline is cut back over the front cabin, similar to efforts by Citroen with the C4 Picasso, and original Honda 'Life'.

Kia is now well into a design-led penetration of several market segments at once.

Kia Soul
The quirky Kia Soul has established itself with younger buyers, whilst older folk are drawn to the Optima, and the Forte (Cerato).
Kia Forte (Cerato sedan)

You must not forget the Sorrento and the Sportage, plus the wildly successful Carnival MPV.

Kia Sorrento
Kia Sportage
As a money-maker for its parent company, Hyundai Motors, Kia is looking very strong.

Kia Carnival

I believe Kia has also scored well with its weirdly-named Pro 'ceed GT.
Looking at the 'Ceed concept sketches, it's clear Schreyer's team were looking for a big leap from the domesticated models. 

But the finished product married cohesive, sporty style, with a shared identity to the 'cooking' model range.

Of course, that’s not to say that the segments within which Kia competes are not the most cutthroat in the global auto market. - they are! 

Every carmaker is shaving profit margins, adding new standard equipment, pushing new design and component development, just to gain an advantage.

However, I think Kia Motors made one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever witnessed in luring Schreyer away from the Volkswagen Group. He has delivered, in spades.

Clearly Peter Schreyer is not only a visionary, but he’s both pragmatic and practical too. His impact on production quality is obvious, but it also reflects well on Kia Motors, that it is not only ‘listening’ to its new star, but acting on his advice and counsel.

Under such direction, Kia, and perhaps Hyundai (now that Schreyer is head of design for both brands), is likely to become one of the world’s major car brands in the not too distant future.