Next-generation Hyundai Kona N in doubt

Next-generation Hyundai Kona N in doubt

There may not be a successor to the Hyundai Kona N performance SUV once the current model leaves showrooms, as electric cars grow in popularity in Europe.

A next-generation Hyundai Kona N performance SUV with turbocharged petrol power is in doubt due to tightening emissions regulations – and an electric successor has been ruled out – according to senior executives at the company.

A replacement for the regular Hyundai Kona range is due in local showrooms next year, however a hot-hatch variant is unlikely to follow.

High-ranking Hyundai N executives made the revelation on a recent visit to Australia.

When asked if a new Hyundai Kona N is on the way – or if it would be feasible without demand for such a vehicle in Europe – Albert Biermann, the former boss of Hyundai N who is now an executive technical advisor for the company, told Australian media over the weekend: “Right now, Hyundai Europe is in EV [electric vehicle] heaven.

“Having Kona EV, Ioniq 5 EV, they are so happy selling those EVs and they’re not really fighting to get a Kona with a combustion [petrol] engine, to continue into a next-generation (Kona N).

“It could have been possible until Euro 7 starts. There could be a stretch of four years or so on a next-generation (Kona N) with a combustion engine, but the EV heaven is just too charming and too enjoyable right now to our salespeople. So they are really not fighting for it.”

Although emissions regulations in the US and Australia are not as strict as Europe – which could enable a new Kona N with a petrol engine to be sold locally – it is unlikely there would be enough potential sales to justify development of the vehicle, given the smaller overall volume to recoup the engineering investment.

Globally, Hyundai reported 5375 Kona Ns as sold over the first 10 months of 2022, or 3 per cent of all Kona sales. But in Europe, the N accounted for only 2 per cent of Kona sales (1420 out of 69,533) – each car sold polluting twice as much as a regular Kona Hybrid.

If the Kona N is to depart Hyundai’s line-up, it would be expected to do so alongside the i30 N hatchback, which – as with the wider i30 hatchback family – is not expected to receive another all-new generation.

This would cut the N range to just two cars, the i30 Sedan N four-door and i20 N hatchback – and the latter’s future is also far from guaranteed, amid shrinking small-car sales overseas.

New Hyundai Kona prototypes.

Exact launch timing for the new Kona range is yet to be confirmed, but it is expected in local showrooms sometime next year – suggesting, if there is no replacement, the Kona N may only have a year left to run.

The move away from petrol-powered Hyundai N cars comes as it adopts electric power, with next year’s Ioniq 5 N performance hatch-turned-SUV – priced from about $100,000 – and the RN22e concept that could preview an Ioniq 6 N electric sedan.

But Till Wartenberg, vice president of the Hyundai N brand, told Australian media alongside Mr Biermann the company would intend to keep some petrol-powered N cars alive until electric versions can be sold at prices current N buyers can reach.

“We’re discussing to be as long as possible with combustion [petrol] engines. But the regulations – for example Euro 7 – make it almost impossible to go many, many years with combustion engines,” said Mr Wartenberg.

“So we’re thinking about B and C segments [i20 and i30-sized cars] we can prolong as long as we can. It always depends on the volume and customer requirements, and if they actually have the demand for that time period.

He added: “One challenge was, “Well, how do we keep our brand? Do we have to reinterpret it? Who do we cater to?” It will have a higher price tag. It will have a different type of fun to drive. As close to possible as combustion-engine [vehicles].”

Mr Wartenberg continued: “So this is what we’re trying to do, but we never said, “We will stop combustion engines and go 100 per cent electric.” At some point it will be that way, but we would like to phase it out as long as possible.”

When asked how long petrol N cars would be kept alive – and if it would be to maintain an affordable entry point into the brand – Mr Wartenberg told media: “Until we have electrified, high performance cars from N which might [have] a lower price tag.”

What the next Kona Electric could look like.

But despite this, Mr Biermann ruled out any chance of a Kona Electric N due to the limitation of the new car’s underpinnings – and the technology needed to deliver such a model without “compromise” would not be due until closer to 2030.

“By 2030 there should be affordable solutions and maybe for like a B-segment [i20-sized] N car, C-segment N car, for sure,” Mr Biermann told Australian media.

Mr Biermann ruled out any chance of an N version of next year’s second-generation Kona Electric – which would remain in showrooms until 2029 – due to its 400-volt electrical architecture, rather than the more advanced 800-volt system under the upcoming Ioniq 5 N.

“Being the engineer and having a clear idea of what N stands for, I would say it’s not a good idea to put a 400-volt [power] system into an N vehicle if in the same company you have the finest 800-volt system with silicon-carbide inverters and high-speed motors,” said Mr Biermann.

Current Kona Electric.

“Why just go there and be eaten by the pack of 400-volt guys? Why do that? Strategically, makes no sense at all to go into that position.

“Tesla, the way they do the 400-volt [system] is a little bit different animal, it’s good. But the typical 400-volt, if you think about an affordable EV, let’s say like €30,000, either it has a small battery or it has a cheap battery.

“But N… race track capability with a cheap battery? That is not going to work. You need the finest battery money can buy in mass production, scale and this is what we have in our E-GMP platform [as used by the upcoming Ioniq 5 N electric car],” Mr Biermann continued.

“And now we’ve built tonnes of E-GMP cars for Genesis, for Kia and for Hyundai, so prices are getting more and more reasonable on these components and so I hope at some point we can make this technology also available in small cars.

“Or, we talk entry-level B segment [an i20 N-sized vehicle]. This is where I can see maybe a 400-volt car, just to be affordable.

“But of course, you have to compromise and this is different [to] we are doing with the E-GMP components. But in [a] smaller car, a much smaller car, then affordability and performance might match. But not in any C-segment [Kona or i30 size] or so.”

Alex Misoyannis

Alex Misoyannis has been writing about cars since 2017, when he started his own website, Redline. He contributed for Drive in 2018, before joining CarAdvice in 2019, becoming a regular contributing journalist within the news team in 2020.

Cars have played a central role throughout Alex’s life, from flicking through car magazines at a young age, to growing up around performance vehicles in a car-loving family.

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