By Jon Scoltock
Hyundai have been on my mind a lot recently. That sentence would have been unimaginable 10 years ago, but the South Korean manufacturer has undergone something of a transformation in recent years. In fact, I think I would go as far as to say that they are probably one of the most exciting car makers in the world right now.
I know that might seem like a far-fetched idea, but hear me out. When I was a kid, Hyundai made fairly dependable, but pretty crappy family cars. They were cheap, nasty and not at all exciting. About their best attempt at an interesting road car in the 1990s was the Tiburon, which was really just a sedan in a posh suit. That being said, in the UK, we did at least get two “F2” versions, which were inspired by the rally cars competing in the second tier of the WRC at the time, but they still weren’t really great performance cars. There was also a Hyundai Accent World Rally Car, but it was hardly a big success, and there definitely wasn’t much good to say about the regular Accent.
In 2020, things look very different though. Obviously there’s been a Hyundai World Rally Team for a while now, and they are the current manufacturer’s champions, but Hyundai are making interesting road cars too. They even hired Albert Biermann – the guy who used to run BMW’s M Division – to help them create their N-branded performance range.
Unfortunately, in North America, you guys have only seen one product honed by Herr Biermann – the Veloster N. In Europe we have the i30 N, which is badged as Elantra in the US, and uses most of the same oily bits as the Veloster. In addition, the new i20 N is about to take the fight to the Ford Fiesta ST, and a Kona N will apparently soon follow. In Germany, which has proven the biggest market for the i30 N, they can even order bucket seats, lightweight wheels and suspension upgrades from their local dealer – who would have imagined Hyundai doing that ten years ago?!
Not into performance cars and looking to do your bit for the planet? Hyundai can help you there too. While most other car makers are struggling to cope with the relentless push towards electrification, Hyundai will already sell you a choice of electric and hybrid models, and are even about to start selling the hydrogen fuel cell-equipped Nexo SUV. It will be their second hydrogen-powered car, even though most manufacturers have never even made one.
While this is all very impressive, you may be wondering what it has to do with rally in the USA. In my mind though, the link is pretty clear. Whenever I have visited North America in recent years, I have been surprised at how many Hyundai’s I see on the road. While they’re some way behind the likes of Ford and Toyota, Hyundai sell more cars in America than any of the European manufacturers – almost double their nearest rival (VW) – so maybe there could be an opportunity here?
2020 ARA National Champion, Barry McKenna has already shown that an R5 car can match the very best that US rallying has to offer and, following a raft of updates, Hyundai’s i20 is proving itself to be one of the most competitive R5s out there. In 2021, the all-new i20 Rally 2 will make its debut, potentially offering an even more potent package. With the outspoken Hyundai Team Principal, Andrea Adamo intent on expanding Hyundai Motorsport’s Customer Racing division, would dropping a couple of Rally 2 cars into the 2021 ARA series be a useful way to promote the N brand and help Hyundai creep even further up those sales charts?
One issue of course is the difference in the Hyundai line-up across different markets. As I already pointed out above, we get the i20 – which is not available in North America – but there might be a bit of help on the horizon there. The word seems to be that Hyundai’s 2022 hybrid WRC car will be based on the Kona, rather than the i20. The Kona is sold in both Europe and the US, making it a much more global product. That means that a Kona N could also be a global product, making the prospect of Hyundai in North American rallying an even more potent cocktail. It probably wouldn’t be difficult to build a Kona rally car using parts from the i20 R5 either, which would effectively solve any potential marketing issues in the meantime.
It’s not just Hyundai that may benefit from a presence in US rallying either of course. Toyota have been battling for top spot in the US sales charts for many years, and the world’s largest car maker is also planning a Rally 2 version of the Yaris. A battle between factory-backed Hyundai and Toyota Rally 2 cars in the ARA would seem like a very marketable way for the two manufacturers to show off and create some brand awareness.
That would be exciting for US rally fans of course but, perhaps even more intriguing, is that it could even pave the way for an American round of the World Rally Championship. The importance of the US market can’t be ignored given its relevance to all three of the manufacturers currently involved at the highest level of the sport and, if Hyundai were to test the water with good results, it may just help us to finally get the WRC back across the pond and into one of the most significant car markets in the world.
See, I told you Hyundai are one of the most exciting car brands around. And I didn’t even mention Hayden Paddon and his all-electric rally car, which is a whole story on its own…
Jon Scoltock is a motorsports and auto journalist from the UK, producing content on the WRC, national rallying, and a range of motorsport engineering subjects. Formerly an engineer, Scoltock has been involved with building and running cars on events around the UK, as well as driving his own cars and volunteering.
For more of Jon’s views from across the pond, follow him at the below social media links: