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Yang replaces Lee as R&D chief as Hyundai advances alternative powertrains

Coming in the face of Hyundai's surge towards alternative fuel vehicles, Hyundai's research and development chief Lee Hyun-soon has resigned citing personal reasons and been replaced by Yang Woong-chul, currently president of the Hyundai Motor Research and Development Center in Namyang, South Korea.

Lee oversaw the development of Hyundai's Hyundai's Alpha engine in 1991, It was the Hyundai's first proprietary internal combustion engine, marking the company's maturation as an automaker. Prior to the Alpha engine, Hyundai bought engines for its cars from Mitsubishi. Lee also oversaw Hyundai's advancements in quality that resulted in the Hyundai Sonata being named the International Car of the Year at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit and a number of other awards.

Incoming r&d chief Yang has been a leader at Hyundai in the field of alternative powertrains, including gasoline-electric hybrids and fuel cells. Hyundai's Blue Drive technology is centered around a novel space and energy-efficient LiPoly (lithium-ion polymer) battery which is being used in "BlueOn", touted at Korea's first battery electric automobile. The LiPoly battery is also used in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The battery is different from other lithium-ion batteries in that rather than having rigid battery packs, polymer sheets can be molded to fit structural and mechanical elements of a vehicle.

Hyundai's alternative powerplant projects include hydrogen fuel cell development. Hyundai introduced the Tucson ix FCEV at Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy 2011 in Washington, D.C., in February. The hydrogen-fueled Tucson ix FCEV achieved a 70 mile per gallon gasoline equivalency and can travel more than 400 miles on a single fueling.

Hyundai has committed to reaching a fleet fuel economy by 2025.
Wrote Yang in Global Asia's winter 2010 issue, " Hyundai is committed to continued sustainable green growth through the introduction of our Hyundai Blue Drive and Kia Eco Dynamics strategies last year. These strategies involve five stages of development — namely, low-carbon models, bio-fuel vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As each stage progresses, there will be a greater reduction in CO2 emissions and less reliance on petroleum. Hyundai is currently developing all five stages simultaneously and employing them as appropriate."

The trade publication Automotive News suggests that Yang's appointment is related to Hyundai's alternative powerplant vehicle development, quoting Hyundai spokesman Frank Ahrens, "We're trying to hedge our bets because there probably won't be just one answer. We're pursuing all alternatives very vigorously."

Yang will not assume Lee's vice chairman title but will continue as president of the r&d center, though taking over Lee's responsibilities.