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Hyundai overhauls management in electric vehicle push

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Hyundai Motor has replaced its top foreign executives and made more than 200 promotions in its biggest personnel shake-up ever as the South Korean automaker pushes into electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

The management overhaul marks a generational change after Euisun Chung, 51, took over at Hyundai last year from his ailing father, Chung Mong-koo, who had run the company for two decades.

The move comes days after Toyota announced it would pour $35bn into a shift toward electric vehicles as the Japanese carmaker prepares to take on rival Tesla. Both Hyundai and Toyota had been criticised for moving slowly to adopt carbon-neutral technologies.

Peter Schreyer, a former Audi designer who led Hyundai’s design, is stepping down and will serve as an adviser. Lee Sang-yup, head of Hyundai’s global design centre, was promoted to an executive vice-president role and will take over Schreyer’s job.

Albert Biermann, the head of Hyundai’s research and development division, will be replaced by Park Jung-guk, president of the company’s hydrogen fuel cell division.

Hyundai hired another foreign executive, Graeme Russell, who led luxury car marketing at Bentley Motors and Macallan, as its new chief brand officer for Genesis line.

About a third of the newly promoted executives are in their 40s, significantly younger than in the past. Former chair Chung Mong-koo’s lieutenants, who were in charge of labour relations and domestic factory operations, have also retired from daily management and will serve as advisers.

Analysts have warned that Hyundai risks possible labour unrest next year after its militant labour union recently elected a hawkish leader.

Friday’s management shake-up underlined the junior Chung’s effort to shift the automaker from petrol engines to electric vehicles, hydrogen power and self-driving cars.

“Hyundai is still behind its foreign rivals in its shift to [electric vehicles]. It should accelerate its push for emerging technologies, given the global regulatory environment towards carbon neutrality,” said Lee Hang-koo, executive adviser at the Korea Automotive Technology Institute.

Hyundai, which together with affiliate Kia is the world’s fifth-largest automaker, announced a plan last December to invest more than Won60tn ($51bn) in emerging technologies over five years.

The company has also set out a goal of cutting carbon emissions 75 per cent for its global products and operations by 2040, compared with 2019 levels, and of reaching carbon neutrality by 2045.

It is aiming for zero-emission vehicles to account for 30 per cent of its global sales by 2030, and projected electric and fuel cell vehicles would reach 80 per cent of its total sales by 2040.

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