Hyundai Snaps Up Former Ford Focus RS Chief Engineer for its Prized N Division - Here’s What It Means
No sign of stopping Hyundai’s plan to keep making sporty carsby Andrei Nedelea, on
Few automakers have experienced such sustained and exponential growth (especially in terms of image and how it is perceived) over the last decade as Hyundai has. The Korean manufacturer has managed to bring about this shift through its own hard work and dedication but also by hiring bright engineering minds with experience working for rival automakers. Now it’s done it again as it has co-opted Tyrone Johnson, the chief engineer that oversaw the Ford Focus RS project and spent 33 years at the Blue Oval.
Tyrone Johnson and Hyundai’s N Division
Johnson will take over as head of vehicle testing, a position left vacant by Albert Biermann (who previously worked for BMW’s Motorsport division before moving to Hyundai) and has since been promoted to global head of research for the brand. Johnson will step in to continue where Biermann left off as he’s now head of vehicle test and development at the automaker’s Nurburgring facility in Germany.
For the Ford Focus RS project, he was instrumental in keeping the car’s performance direction clear.
By that I mean he not only wanted to create a car that’s really fast, easy to control, and retains the legendary Ford driving feel, but also one whose character can be dramatically altered by switching through the various driving modes. Back when the Focus RS was launched, he was extremely excited not only about how the car drove, but also how much it could be tailored for specific scenarios through the aforementioned modes - even the famous drift mode that got people talking back then was approved and signed off by Johnson.
By having him on board, Hyundai’s clear intention is to keep creating sporty cars that are rewarding and fun to drive. We don’t exactly know what they have in the pipeline, but there are rumors that the manufacturer wants a standalone halo model to give weight and credibility to its new N performance sub-brand. Tyrone Johnson will definitely be involved in this project if it is indeed something that Hyundai is actually doing.
Albert Biermann is on record as saying the N brand won’t need a halo model before it has an established range of credible N-badged performance cars.
Currently, Hyundai has the i30 N, the i30 N Fastback, and the Veloster N.
Next in line will probably be a hot version of the next-gen i20 subcompact, and it’s quite likely that Tyrone Johnson will be involved in this project.
Returning to the standalone model idea, Hyundai provided a series of renderings as its April Fools joke this year, renderings that showed a small, lightweight roadster that looked like a direct rival to the Mazda MX-5 / Miata. The automaker is obviously suggesting it has no plans for such a model in its lineup, and that it was all done for some laughs, but we really didn’t laugh and it instead got many people thinking that a small, fun roadster could work as a standalone N model.
Some older rumors even went as far as to suggest Hyundai’s N halo model would be quite an extreme mid-engined sports car - the manufacturer did show off the RM16 N concept that was loosely based on a Veloster, yet it sent all of its power to the rear wheels. It also had carbon fiber components, an adjustable rear wing and even seats with active side bolsters to keep the driver in place during hard cornering.
Either way, the fact that Hyundai is still hiring leading industry experts with performance car experience suggests it doesn’t plan to stop making cars under the new N brand, and we’re very eager to see what they come up with. Maybe there’s even an all-wheel-drive hyper hatch in the brand’s future, as that was the kind of model that Tyrone Johnson was working on at Ford.
Hyundai is also known to be working on an N-badged version of the Tucson crossover, a model that could compete with the likes of the 300 horsepower SEAT Ateca Cupra or the BMW X2 M35i. This is believed to be the next N model to be rolled out within the next year or so. There are also rumors out that the aforementioned N halo car is certainly going to be all-wheel drive and quite possibly a hybrid and it is expected to arrive around the year 2022.
According to Hyundai’s vice president its high performance and motorsport division, Gyoo-Heon Choi, “a halo car remains in our plans. It won’t come for a while yet, but we know we have to make one. We are now looking at some alternative powertrains and some different options on what kinds of vehicle we might deliver and when.” In other words, they are still deciding where they want to go with such a project and having Johnson on board with his decades of experience is clearly linked to this mysterious future performance car. Plus the fact that the Ford Focus RS turned out such a hoot to drive, Tyrone Johnson’s move to Hyundai builds even more hype (and expectations) for upcoming N models.
Read our full review on the 2017 Ford Focus RS.
Read our full review on the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N.
Read our full review on the 2018 Hyundai i30 N.