Did you know that a Hyundai Ioniq 5 costs nearly SGD$200,000 in Singapore (or about £118,300 at current exchange rates)? I know, I can’t wrap my head around it either but it’s true. The Ioniq 5 is a pretty snazzy EV and all, but for that kind of cash Hyundai better include a private concert with Beyonce and unlimited chili crab dinners until I die.
To be fair, Hyundai isn’t charging that price to its customers. Instead, all buyers must purchase a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) in order to purchase a car. Currently, prices are SGD$95,689 (£57,000) for a Category A car and SGD$110,001 (£65,000) for Category B. The former applies to cars with small engines or EVs with less than 110 kilowatts of power while the latter is for vehicles with engines larger than 1.6 litres or EVs with more than 110 kilowatts.
Singapore introduced the COE in an effort to minimise both traffic and air pollution. There are a limited number of COEs available and residents can apply for one twice a month. It’s a complicated system but it works. During my time there, the air was clear and I never sat in traffic, despite there being six million people.
At any rate, if you’re going to buy a car – any car – in Singapore, it better be worth the cash. That is where the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore comes in (HMGICS). This is where Hyundai customers can come to order and personalise their cars as well as get a look at how the vehicle was made. Customers and guests alike can also test drive a car on the roof and take a nibble from the automated garden.
If you're at the HMGICS to actually order a car, personalisation comes first. Customers can walk into the Ioniq lounge and choose their interior trim configuration and exterior colour. The options I saw were all various shades of grey or black, but hopefully more colours will be added soon.
After ordering their vehicle, buyers are then treated to a virtual reality tour of HMGICS. The factory is pretty impressive, with 60 percent of the work being done by robots. There are static robots screwing in bolts, putting in seats, and dropping in windscreen wiper motors, while mobile pallet robots transport parts around the floor. A robot named Tony checks the factory floor for any problems and reports them to maintenance while four Spot robot dogs from Boston Dynamics perform quality checks.
There isn’t a traditional assembly line at HMGICS. Instead, all work is done in cells, where each technician – often with the help of a robot but not always – has about 40 tasks to complete. It’s cool to see some of the augmented technology in each cell, from a wearable seat that allows a worker to take a load off at any time to smart glasses that project instructions into a tech’s field of view. I covet both of these items for my own garage.
Next up is a test drive around the elevated Sky Track. This track encircles the HMGICS on the fifth floor and measures 618 metres (just under four-tenths of a mile). You’ll ride shotgun, which in Singapore is in the left-hand seat, and the driver takes the Ioniq 5 over some bumps to show off the suspension before scooting off at 83 kilometres per hour (52 miles per hour) through 33-degree banked turns to test stability and steering. After a few laps, the driver stops on the track and turns the car up the banked turn to make sure the hill hold is working properly.
I get a quick ride on the Sky Track and it’s pretty brilliant. My driver seems to be pushing it a tad quicker than the 83-kph speed limit and I get a bit green around the gills after three laps. What’s really interesting, however, is what happens when I’m waiting for my turn. Thanks to the interlocking modules made of steel and rubber components, the track is super-compliant. No vibration or noise from the track transferred into the building. Good thing since all those robots on the third floor need absolute precision to do their job.
No vibration or noise from the track transferred into the building. Good thing since all those robots on the third floor need absolute precision to do their job.
Finally, you are treated to a round of veggies grown hydroponically at the HMGICS and harvested by a robot. I know, cars and leafy greens make for strange bedfellows, but there is a reason for all this.
Because Singapore is such a tiny nation, it has to import 90 percent of its food. As such, the country hopes to increase its self-sufficiency rate to 30 percent by 2030 and Hyundai wants the robotic tech developed at HMGICS to be part of the solution. In fact, the company says one goal of this experimental factory is to, "...pave a smarter way of urban living for the benefit of the wider society." If growing food inside the lobby of a car factory isn’t the definition of urban living, I’m not sure what is.
Regardless, the farm looks really cool. Towering five metres from the lobby floor, it is full of vegetables in various stages of development, from precious little seedlings to mature plants ready to be harvested. Every day this little farm churns out 250 plants, ready to eat. There is a second farm on another floor that produces even more. Currently the veggies go to the tasting room or a local food bank, but Hyundai will open a farm-to-table restaurant for visitors sometime next year.
My hosts make sure I get the full experience and escorts me to the tasting room. Although nine different crops are grown between the two farms, I get to sample four varieties: romaine lettuce, crystal green lettuce, swiss chard, and mustard. To be honest, the crystal green stuff reminds me of the weeds that grow on the side of every freeway in Los Angeles and the mustard is way too spicy for my palate, but the other two taste really good and there is even fresh juice to wash it down.
While the VR experience, Sky Track, and tasting room are free and open to anyone, only buyers finish up their day by actually taking delivery of their car. After a brief video in a garage/lounge, two large pocket doors open and the car is brought out on two autonomous pallet robots. They only lift the car a few inches off the ground and it’s cool to see the vehicle gliding across the floor with the wheels stationary.
The robots lower the car, fold themselves up, and hightail it back to the factory floor, presumably to grab a car for the next customer. Meanwhile, you, the buyer, are getting a first look at your incredibly expensive Hyundai.
At the end of the day, I suppose the price is all relative. An all-electric EQB from Mercedes Benz is around SGD$347,000 (£205,000) while the little petrol-powered Suzuki Swift comes in at just under SGD$133,000 (£79,000). With prices this high for every car, I’m not sure customers expect any kind of special buying experience, but it’s cool that Hyundai is at least making an attempt.