“Hyundai is big deal in industry”
When the bus turned the corner and the 8.8 millionth square metre of steelworks came into view, the bigger picture suddenly became clear: Hyundai’s massive. In all honesty, we knew that – there’s nothing trifling about selling 4.96 million cars a year. But I had no idea it was quite this big. The disappointment at the loss of Rally China earlier this month was compounded by the potential knock-on disruption to my onward travel: I’d been scheduled to go from Beijing to Seoul for a nose around Hyundai’s home turf. It was with some relief that the message from the Frankfurt end of the Korean operation was still about flying east, albeit a few days later than planned.
That’s how I ended up reading Korean Autocar in Hyundai’s groovy Gangnam district Motorstudio on a sunny Monday afternoon. What style.
And behind that style is some serious substance, as you’d expect for a company employing 110,000 people around the world and generating a Group-wide revenue of £140 billion a year. But what cuts Hyundai apart in the motor industry is its approach to the means to production.
Being held hostage to the price of steel is a worry throughout the world of car manufacturing, which is why Hyundai elected to forge a fix by making its own. And while it was making some for itself, it might as well make a bit more and see if they could sell it. That, in principle, is how Hyundai Steel ended up making 24 million tonnes of the stuff annually.
Soon after passing through the gates pictures were prohibited, but our guide was full of a fascinating story which talked of iron-ore arriving from Australia, Brazil and Russia and its journey into flat sheets of steel via 1600 degrees in either a blast or electric arc furnace (the site has both).
Watching lengths of steel pass by in the finishing mill was a genuine assault on the senses. Granted, much of the heat had gone out of it by then… it was only around 1200 degrees when it rolled by 20 metres in front of us! The effect was like somebody turning an electric fire right in your face.
Talking of electric, Hyundai makes its own with a coal-fired station at Dangjin. Even the ships which deliver the near-five million cars sold around the world each year are made from Hyundai’s homegrown steel.
The only downside to the trip was the striking workers at the research and development centre in Namyang. The Korean equivalent of Boreham was the thing I was looking forward to the most, but the PR folk were clearly not keen to bus a bunch of hacks across the picket line.
It didn’t matter. The message was received. Loud and clear. Hyundai’s a big deal, a very big deal. Get it. Volkswagen? Pah, they probably don’t even have their own power station, let alone the product to pipe oil from one side of the world to the other.