(All images: Hyundai Motor America)
Everything starts somewhere that tends to be somewhat unexpected, and today one of the most competitive midsize sedans on the planet is being manufactured in one of the most competitively productive manufacturing complexes—a site that was once a cow pasture. Since the start of production in 2005, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA), due south of downtown Montgomery, has produced more than 4.5-million vehicles.
The 8th Generation
And that aforementioned sedan is among them: the all-new, 8th generation Sonata. Not only does it build the vehicle, but on site there is an engine manufacturing complex that recently underwent a $388-million expansion. HMMA has the capacity to produce more than 650,000 engines per year, including the Smartstream 2.5-liter GDI and the Smartstream 1.6-liter turbo, both new four-cylinder engines that are found under the hoods of the new Sonatas.
Why a Car?
Before looking at the Sonata, it is worth clearing something up. Like why has Hyundai made a considerable effort—and it is considerable—in developing a midsize sedan? After all, the launch of the three-row Palisade in mid-2019 made perfect sense because of the demand/interest in things like crossovers. But a sedan? A sedan with a starting price of $23,400?
Yes, people still buy sedans. Plenty of them.
And so we hear from Brian Smith, chief operating officer, Hyundai Motor America, who explains something that gets lost sight of. Yes, he admits, when total vehicle sales are considered, in terms of the top five segments, there are subcompact SUV, full-size pickup, compact car, midsize SUV. . .and then midsize car.
It Adds Up
But Smith, citing figures for CY 2018 from Autodata, notes that the midsize segment accounted for 1,496,664 units. Sure, that is about half of the subcompact SUV number (2,904,117), but that is still a sizable number. (And Hyundai does have the Tucson in that field.) What’s more, when the top 10 vehicle lists are compiled, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are on the lists, as those two invariably move off of lots in volume (i.e., the former 343,439 times in 2018 and the latter 291,003 times, Smith says).
In addition to which, Smith says that research finds that when it comes to buying intentions, 59% of midsize car owners said in 2018 that their next vehicle would be another midsize sedan, a number that increased to 61% in 2019.
So no matter how you run the numbers, a competitive midsize car can go a long way for an OEM.
Which goes to the point of competitiveness.
As you may recall, two generations ago, model year 2011, the Hyundai Sonata was a startling execution of design.
No Small Goal
That car, code-named “YF,” says Kevin Kang, senior creative manager, Hyundai Design North America, was something that they had in mind when developing the eight-generation, 2020 Sonata, the DN8. “We wanted to create the best-looking sedan in the midsize segment.”
They went for maximum style for the 8th generation, harkening back to gen six.
But Kang, who says that car designers one and all work to achieve “the perfect line,” acknowledges that in order to achieve an outstanding design it is necessary to have the right platform, which means that it isn’t just designers who make it happen, but engineers, as well. (Kang says he’s married to an engineer, so he knows first-hand about the importance of engineers.)
Long and Low
Kang points out that the platform developed for the DN8 provided the designers with a longer wheelbase and a shorter front overhang that the previous generation Sonata. And one of the big wins that the engineers facilitated was lower front shock towers, which allowed them to lower the hood. And speaking of the hood, another thing that the designers and engineers were able to achieve is the absence of the parting line in the front of the hood, as the hood flows right to the top of the grille. “That took an extra bit of engineering expertise,” Kang says.
The all-new, third-gen platform underpinning the 2020 Sonata.
While on the subject of dimensions, Mike O’Brien, vice president of Product, Corporate & Digital Planning, the overall height of the 2020 Sonata is down 1.2 inches compared with the 2019 version; however, there is only a 0.2-inch loss in rear headroom, to 37.8 inches, thanks, in large part, to the use of variable durometer foam for the rear seat cushion, as well as a lowering of the rear H-point. (And the aforementioned lower wheel base is 111.8 inches, a 1.4-inch increase compared to the 2019; the overall length is up 1.8 inches, to 192.9 inches; and they’ve added an inch to the width, making it 73.2 inches. As for the reduced front overhang, it measures 37.2 inches; the rear overhang is 43.9 inches.)
One design feature of the YF Sonata that has been retained but taken to a higher level is the chrome strip that ran from the trailing edge of the headlamp across to trailing edge of the DLO. Now It flows down the hood and wraps around the DLO. What’s more, through the use of laser etching, what appears to be a chrome strip that runs down either side of the hood and then intersecting with the headlamps is, when the lights are turned on, actually illuminated.
Note how the chrome strips along the sides of the hood transition into the DRLs. A laser etching process is used so a portion on each strip is actually illuminated.
The design theme for the car is “Sensuous Sportiness.” One could argue that this has a lot to do with the fast, single motion roofline. Or with that remarkable chrome/lighting execution. Neither of which are you likely to find on an SUV.
On the interior of the Sonata, Kang says, they wanted to achieve “a feeling of lightness,” something that would be a bit of a counter to the visual noise that occurs both outside and inside of a vehicle.
The inspiration for the instrument panel were the wings of a jet aircraft. They wanted the IP to be low and open. This led to working with the engineers on the design of the air vents. Kang explains that in order to lower the IP, such as in the area where the front passenger airbag is contained, the height of the vents had to be narrowed, so they were able to achieve 35-mm vents that are still able to perform the necessary HVAC requirements.
Another area that the engineers had to take on a considerable task was on the armrests, where the designers came up with a big hole that allows grasping for pulling the door open or closed almost anywhere (to say nothing of providing a place to put things like phones). Kang says that when the engineers were presented with the idea, they pretty much indicated that it was preposterous, given the number of things that are found within the door inner and outer. Yet, they figured out a way to do it by moving things around. Although it may seem to be a small thing, for Kang, who worked on interior design, it was a big win.
A few words about the engines are in order given that they, like the platform the Sonata rides on, are new (and both are mated to an eight-speed automatic; four drive modes are offered that adjust the engine and transmission mapping and steering effort).
The base, all-aluminum engine is a 2.5-liter that produces 191 hp @ 6,100 rpm and 181 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Notably this engine has both gasoline direct injection (GDI) and multipoint injection, a combination, O’Brien explains, that not only helps with improving overall performance (the 2.4-liter engine that it replaces produces 185 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 178 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm) and fuel economy—an estimated 33 mpg combined, up from 29 mpg combined. There are other things that they’ve done to improve engine efficiency, such as integrating the exhaust manifold into the cylinder head, which improves thermal management, which then, O’Brien points out, allows a much higher compression ratio, 13.0:1, compared with 11.3:1 for the 2.4-liter.
The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine features continuously variable valve duration for improved performance and reduced emissions.
Then there’s the all-aluminum Smartstream 1.6-liter turbo GDI engine, which produces 180 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. One feature that makes this engine different—hugely different from other engines under hoods of vehicles of all makes—is that it has what Hyundai designates “continuously variable valve duration,” CVVD, which goes beyond existing variable valve timing systems, as it mechanically opens and closes the valves over a period of time predicated on throttle inputs and load conditions. According to Dr. Kyoung-Pyo Ha, a research fellow at and director of the Gasoline Research Lab No. 2 at Hyundai HQ, the ability to precisely control duration results in a fuel economy improvement of 5% and a performance improvement of 4%. As this is a servo-driven approach compared to one that’s hydraulically actuated, the response is far faster and more precise.
And there are the amenities. Like the standard “Smartsense” technology (including forward collision assist, smart cruise with stop-and-go, lane follow assist, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, and more and more and more). There is an available “digital key,” which allows one to use a smartphone (at this point, Android only) through near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) communication to lock and unlock the doors and start the engine. The digital key can be shared—and removed—as needed.
The Sonata offers phone as a key capability, operating with both NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy.
And while the digital key means that there is no need for a key fob, there is actually a use for the 2020 Sonata key fob, as there is “remote smart parking assist” technology that allows the vehicle to be controlled, as in back into or pulling out of a parking spot with the “driver” (or the person with the key fob) standing outside of the vehicle, using a forward or reverse button on the fob to actuate the car.
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