Hyundai Breaks Ground for Safety Test and Investigation Lab

Root-cause crash investigation will make this Michigan-based testing lab unlike any other in North America.

A rendering of Hyundai’s STIL, which is slated to be operational in the fall of 2023. (Hyundai)

Hyundai Motor America is creating an industry-unique testing zone to address root cause crash investigations and electric vehicle/future product analysis activities at its Michigan R&D campus west of Detroit. “The Safety Test and Investigation Laboratory (STIL) will put a focus on speed, speed, speed in understanding what happened,” in a crash or component failure, said John Robb, President of Hyundai America Technical Center Inc. (HATCI). STIL is targeted to be operational in the fall of 2023.

The ceremonial groundbreaking for Hyundai’s STIL involved Hyundai and government officials. From left to right: Dr. Kyoungjoon Chung (vp of HATCI), John Robb (president of HATCI), Brian Latouf (chief safety officer of Hyundai Motor North America), Jose Munoz (president and COO of Hyundai Motor Company), Garlin Gilchrist (Michigan’s Lt. Governor), and Debbie Dingell (US Congresswoman). (Hyundai)

SAE Media interviewed Robb and other Hyundai officials at the groundbreaking for STIL, a $51.6 million facility being constructed at the automaker’s southeast Michigan technical hub. Hyundai officials said 160 engineers, including those in electrical, mechanical, materials and safety, will be hired to work at the new facility. STIL will feature vehicle inspection bays, a field-crash investigation lab, a 1,640-ft (500-m) asphalt test track, a vehicle-dynamics area and a high-voltage battery lab with test pad.

“We’re going to get in front of issues and apply the learnings to future products,” said Brian Latouf, Chief Safety Officer for Hyundai Motor North America. When operational, the STIL will enable technology specialists to use various investigative tools, such as a high-tech CT (computed tomography) scanner. “Instead of pulling apart and destroying an electrical-mechanical component system, we can scan the internal components to see if there is a circuit fault or other failure,” Latouf said, noting the scanner could be used to evaluate system components after a crash. Such testing also could be used to investigate reported issues from dealership service departments.

Brian Latouf, Hyundai Motor North America chief safety officer. (Hyundai)

A loss of power steering, unintended acceleration, loss of braking and other vehicle operational failures are extremely critical. “So we want to investigate hazardous or recurring issues and get that diagnostic and data acquisition in place, then do a full root-cause analysis to apply that robustness back into the product design for the future,” Latouf explained. Automaker crash-test labs typically are focused on activities for production verification and government-mandated certification. “The STIL lab will be studying product in the field. And, we’ll be focusing on electrified vehicles,” said Latouf.

Electrified-vehicle testing at STIL will occur indoors via an EV battery lab and via an outdoor test pad. “With EVs, you have to isolate away from offices and buildings to study and push things to the limit as it relates to battery overcharging, thermal events and other conditions. Although we have EV evaluation capabilities at our R&D center in Namyang, South Korea, having EV testing capabilities in North America will enable our regional engineers to figure out the appropriate responses or remedies,” Latouf said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports nearly 43,000 deaths occurred in the U.S. from vehicular crashes in 2021. According to Latouf, the STIL will provide avenues for designing vehicles that offer better survivability for occupants. “If a driver runs a red light, clips a car, then runs into another car, that’s a multiple-impact accident. There isn’t a test that’s required that replicates that type of crash for a production vehicle,” Latouf said. The field-crash investigation lab opens the door for multiple impact forensic vehicle autopsies. “We’re going to be far above what’s required by U.S. federal motor standards (FMVSS) and for NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) labeling and IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) ratings,” Latouf said.

NHTSA supports the STIL’s development. A 2020 NHTSA consent-order agreement with Hyundai – relating to hesitant recalls for more than 1.6 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles equipped with Theta II 4-cylinder engines that demonstrated propensity to catch fire – dictated a $25-million investment in a safety facility. Hyundai is doubling the investment to more than $50 million for the STIL. Robb noted that the facility will represent another step forward for Hyundai’s mobility vision. “We want to look at not only making it easier for customers to go from point A to point B, but we want to make that journey safer,” he said.