Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung -- central to the company’s transformation from conventional carmaker to mobility giant promoting flying cars and hydrogen-fuel cells -- had his first, very public, stumble this week.
On Monday, after a month of intense speculation around who may team with Apple Inc. to help develop its much-vaunted self-driving electric car, Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. were forced in separate exchange filings to say they weren’t in any talks with the tech behemoth, backing away from an earlier Hyundai statement that confirmed they were in discussions.
That Jan. 8 initial disclosure, along with other reports of talks, no doubt infuriated Apple, which keeps development projects secret for years and controls relationships with suppliers with ruthless efficiency. It’s unclear if -- or when -- discussions between the two might resume.
Hyundai “might have learned some lessons through this issue,” said Koh Tae-bong, head of research at HI Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul. “Keeping internal discussions internal is important.”
The fracas -- which saw Hyundai edit and dial back its January statement twice -- is an embarrassment for Chung, who took over from his father Mong-Koo Chung as chairman of South Korea’s second-largest conglomerate in October after two years as executive vice chairman. And if talks with Apple never restart, it’s a small disappointment, considering there are only a handful of global automakers with the capacity and capability to mass manufacture vehicles.