The Korea Herald


Hyundai Motor steps up investments in AI drive

Top carmaker needs to aggressively push for M&As of tech firms to catch up with rivals, experts say

By Korea Herald

Published : March 17, 2016 - 12:37

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The artificial intelligence craze generated by the Go match between Korean champion Lee Se-dol and Google’s AI software AlphaGo has spread to the automobile industry.

Competition is heating up, with not only global automakers but also tech giants like Google and Apple rushing to gain the upper hand in commercializing self-driving cars.

Hyundai tests its self-driving car, based on the Genesis sedan, in November 2015. (Yonhap) Hyundai tests its self-driving car, based on the Genesis sedan, in November 2015. (Yonhap)

Hyundai Motor, the world’s fifth automaker in terms of production, is no exception. It is stepping up its AI drive to keep pace with global front-runners in this promising new auto segment. Navigant Research recently predicted that about 129 million autonomous vehicles will be sold from 2020 to 2035.

Industry experts called on the Korean automaker to be more aggressive so as not to fall behind in the race.

“Hyundai is at least five to six years behind companies like Google that have been investing heavily in the development of AI technologies for years,” said Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University.

“Hyundai should be more aggressively seeking mergers and acquisitions with tech companies to compete with its competitors.”

A growing number of global automakers have hunted for tech firms to enhance their drive to create electric vehicles.

Japan’s Toyota built its Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley last year, and recruited members of AI software firm Jaybridge Robotics.

General Motors bought a San Francisco-based start-up, Cruise Automation, to accelerate its self-driving car project. Meanwhile, Ford added a new subsidiary called Ford Smart Mobility to focus on developing autonomous vehicles.

It is not just automakers that want in on this market segment. Tech giants, such as Google, also want a share of the pie.

Google has already put its self-driving cars on roads. According to guidelines from the Society of Automotive Engineers International, Google appears to be close to entering the final phase of advancement for self-driving cars. On the other hand, Hyundai is still in mid-stage.

In light of fast-growing competition in the autonomous car market, Hyundai Motor Group, which has two auto-making arms Hyundai and Kia, has recently been stepping up investments in AI technology and autonomous vehicles. It aims to manufacture self-driving vehicles by at least 2030.

“Hyundai plans to invest more than 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) over the next four years, and hire more than 3,000 employees until 2018 for its autonomous vehicle project,” said a Hyundai Motor official.

On March 7, the local carmaker obtained permission to test-drive its first autonomous car in Seoul. A week later, on March 14, it asked the Transport Ministry for permission to test-drive two other self-driving cars.

Government support is crucial in giving local carmakers a push in this area.

“(AI) will quickly change the landscape of the world’s auto industry, and we need the government to assist local automakers to excel in producing autonomous vehicles by supporting human and economic resources,” said Kim.

By Hong Sung-pyo (