Hyundai Motor Group, like the rest of the industry, is chasing moving targets on everything from new eco-car technologies to autonomous driving and connectivity. The group's close ties to its affiliated supplier network give it less latitude to cherry pick the best technologies from around the world. And a reputation for value-oriented entry cars makes it harder for Hyundai and Kia to marshal the pricing power needed to cover costly cutting-edge systems such as autonomous driving.
Vice Chairman Yang Woong-chul, Hyundai Motor Group's global r&d chief, wants the company to transcend its history as a fast-follower but also wants it to be a homegrown effort.
So Hyundai is pursuing a go-it-alone strategy that banks heavily on its own backyard.
For starters, South Korea is a global hub for many of the high-tech fields triggering so much angst today: battery development, ultrafast connectivity and complicated software algorithms.
Hyundai, Kia and Genesis also lean on the domestic auto market, the world's 11th largest, for a kind of built-in head start on volume. The group controls more than half the home market.
And the creation of Genesis, Korea's first premium marque, underpins the drive.
Genesis takes the manufacturer into a higher tier where customers are more willing to pay for next-generation autonomous driving systems and advanced powertrains. Hyundai Motor Group can deploy them in Genesis and spread them to Hyundai and Kia after costs fall.
While other automakers seek partners, Yang remains wary of alliance entanglements.
"We have seen that with many other companies, alliances have seen more failures than success," Yang told Automotive News last year. "We have pretty good technologies."
Lee's gold medals are inscribed, in English, "WE ARE THE BEST." But even he admits the next medal race is already on — this time over hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.