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Hyundai throws down the gauntlet with new Creta

S Muralidhar | Updated on March 12, 2020

The new Creta assembly line at Hyundai’s Sriperumbudur plant near Chennai

Seeing it take shape at the Chennai plant is an experience in itself

Rewind to the time when the Skoda Yeti was the sole choice in the premium mid-size sports utility vehicle segment to the present when there are options galore, buyers in the category have never had it so good.

Even though the Renault Duster preceded it, it was the Hyundai Creta that really spearheaded the explosive growth in the segment. With competition getting intense, especially with sister brand Kia Motors’s Seltos stealing the thunder, the Creta needs a strong comeback with its BS-VI avatar.

Hyundai is known to fight back hard and that seems to be its intent for the Creta, too. So how’s it going to do that? To let us in on the sequel, Hyundai Motor India offered a sneak peek into the development of the new Creta and a behind-the-scenes tour of its Sriperumbudur plant near Chennai.

The facility is a sprawling complex with nearly 13,500 workers working in three shifts to produce vehicles for the Indian and export markets (cars are exported to 88 countries). The journey, however, begins in a nondescript corner of the press shop where the steel coils, that eventually take shape into cars, are unloaded.

Unrolled, the coils are fed into the blanking mill where large sticker-like pieces of metal are punched out to form the fundamental basis for each body panel of the new Creta. After this, it is put through stamping, where massive 4,000-5,400 tonne mills use moulds and dies to shape the outer and inner panels of the Creta’s bonnet, doors and other body panels.

Interestingly, over nine million cars have rolled out of the facility, for which nearly 1.6 lakh km of sheet metal has been used: about four times the earth’s circumference!

The chassis and subframes for the new Creta will feature an increase in the use of advanced high strength steel — about 74.3 per cent. According to Hyundai, the superstructure is capable of handling the pressure of two African elephants!

Just past the press shop, the primary panels of the Creta take shape before being stored and shipped to the body shop. The plant has some of the most automated assembly lines in the country with over 650 fourth-generation robots at work.

Nowhere is the automation as impressive to look at as the weld line in the body shop, where the consistency and precision of each weld spot on the Creta’s ‘body-in-white’ is critical in ensuring its safety performance. Many of these robots are made by other Hyundai group companies and almost all of them are connected.

This means generating a huge amount of data that is constantly collated and analysed for monitoring the health of the process and the robots themselves so that self-corrective measures can be taken. The unpainted monocoque body-in-white with the doors just hanging from the hinges is sent to the paint shop.

This is one of the most protected sections of a car plant where the entire line needs to be completely covered and dust-free. It is in the paint shop that the Creta’s body is dipped into baths and sprayed on for various protective coatings ranging from rust-proofing and engine bay sealing to getting multiple layers of paint and a clear coat for that shiny exterior.

Fully automated

The entire process is fully automated and the single line seamlessly handles multiple colours sprayed on using the electrodeposition method for low wastage and better environmental efficiency. The painted body is sent to the assembly line via an overhead conveyor.

Here, it is again partly taken apart for being assembled in parallel. Based on the trim variant being made, preassembled parts forming the mechanicals like axles and the interior parts are fed to the line. While the door panels get their interior trim installed, the cabin gets seats and the dashboard subassembly, steering, floor carpeting, wheels and tyres, etc. One of the most important stages in the assembly line is the ‘engine marriage’, where the relevant powertrain for the model being assembled is literally eased into the engine bay of the vehicle.

The new Creta will get three engines and four transmission options. These include the 1.4-litre Kappa turbo GDi petrol engine with the 7-speed DCT (dual-clutch auto), the 1.5-litre U2 CRDi diesel engine with either a 6-speed manual or auto gearbox and the 1.5-litre MPi petrol engine with the 6-speed manual or IVT (intelligent variable transmission).

The powertrains are assembled in the engine shop located adjacent to the assembly line and, based on the production schedule, the relevant units are fed to the line. The complexity of the assembly operation can be better understood when you consider that there are multiple models and variants being assembled on the same line at any given point in time.

While touring the plant, three models — i20, Venue and Creta — were being assembled, including the left hand drive, 2019 model year Creta earmarked for Mexico.

Hyundai has some of the most advanced testing and monitoring systems at the plant for checking errors and tolerances of manufactured parts and the entire body-in-white. The plant also houses 17 test tracks.

Shower test

One of the last stages of the assembly shop is the visual inspection, brake tests and shower leak test. The most interesting to witness is the shower test, which features high pressure sprinklers that spray water onto every car rolling off the assembly line.

Done within the confines of a container sized terminal, the test mimics water pressures in excess of the worst recorded monsoon showers in India.

While the new Creta’s behind-the-scenes episode was doubtless interesting, the real act will be played out in the market next week with its launch and price announcement.

Compared to the previous Creta’s more neutral design, the new one seems to have been influenced by the Palisade, Hyundai’s flagship SUV being sold only in the US. However, the cabin is all-new and focussed on Indian buyer preferences. The new Creta will need all the help it can get to take on group competitors like the Kia Seltos.

Published on March 12, 2020

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