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Q&A Till Wartenberg, Head of Hyundai N Brand and Motorsports, Sees an Electrifying Future

by | April 23, 2024

If your idea of an EV is a quirky looking vehicle that’s slow and stodgy, you better think again. Tesla, with the Model S Plaid, Ford with Mustang Mach-E and Mercedes-Benz with the EQS AMG, are showing that battery-electric vehicles can be stylish and fun to drive.

2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N - front 3-4 sunrise REL

The 2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N features a number of body updates, including larger intakes to keep the battery pack and motors cool.

Now, Hyundai wants to set a new benchmark for an affordable EV. It’s new Ioniq 5 N is just rolling into showrooms and, with the automaker’s blessing, out onto the track. This all-electric hot hatch can make 541 hp and hit 60 in just 3.2 seconds. It’s also designed for more than just straight-line acceleration, as the automaker demonstrated during a media drive at the grueling Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The Ioniq 5 variant is the first EV to wear Hyundai’s high-performance “N” badge. But it won’t be the lasy, stressed Till Wartenberg, the former BMW executive who is now heading Hyundai’s N brand and overseeing its motorsports efforts. He offered up insights into what’s coming in this exclusive Q&A.

2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N - red rear 3-4 detail on pit lane

I got my first chance to drive the 2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5 N at the challenging Weather Tech Laguna Seca race track.

Headlight.News: A major reason you were brought on at Hyundai was to boost their motorsports program but also to accelerate the development of the N performance brand. Why?

Wartenberg: This creates value. This creates a halo effect for the entire Hyundai brand. If you look at all the numbers in terms of customer studies, you see that all the numbers — about awareness, about liking the brand and about brand perception — skyrocket(ed) since the N brand was launched. It builds a community, it builds fandom.

HLN: One thing many people like about EVs is the power. It’s very different from when EVs first came out 10, 15 years ago. Now, there’s a certain level of performance in almost everything electrified. But why take the Ioniq 5 N up to this level of performance?

Wartenberg: My job description says “make people happy, take car enthusiasts and car lovers and offer something they would expect.” The stereotype is that EVs are heavy because of the battery, they’re expensive, they’re fast in a straight line, but they cannot go on winding roads. These stereotypes, this was our challenge to overcome this. And the Ioniq 5 N was was the product which does that quite well. It feels very nimble. It feels agile. It feels much lighter than it actually is.

HLN: I understand you weren’t always sure you could pull it off.

Wartenberg: We have what we call the three pillars of N performance: “corner rascal,” (aggressive handling):  race track capability and everyday driving. We asked if that had to be changed (with an EV) and we very quickly said no. We thought maybe it wasn’t possible yet but we challenged the engineers and they can be great magicians sometimes.

There was no benchmark in the beginning. Normally, with a combustion engine, there are high performance brands out there where you can look at and then take those vehicles apart and then learn from it. With an electric vehicle that was not the case. We started from scratch and this took some time.

More Hyundai News

2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5N - Grin Mode button REL

Tap the N Grin Mode button for an extra 40 hp.

HLN: Hyundai has won praise for the starting price of the Ioniq 5 N. It’s half as much as Tesla Model S Plaid and a good bit less than the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT with a Performance Pack.

Wartenberg: It’s not a supercar. It’s a real high-performance sports car which is still affordable. I think it opens up a segment where others will get to and I believe competition is always good and we need other manufacturers to follow up.

HLN: You’re now talking about taking Ioniq 5 N racing?

Wartenberg: We’re opening up a one-make race with the Ioniq 5 N e-cup car. It doesn’t change anything but puts in the safety measures for motorsports. We started this year in South Korea and then we’d like to expand it to other markets. We do this because motorsports is the pinnacle of our N-brand pyramid, because everything proven and motorsports-tested goes into N models. That gives it credibility and authentic storytelling.

HLN: You have said you don’t make a brand — or a sub-brand — with one vehicle. You have built a range of N models already. But my assumption is you’re going to follow this up with more all-electric or electrified vehicles.

Wartenberg: I believe we’ll have, as long as regulations allow, and as long as there is customer demand, (multiple) technologies in parallel with the N brand. But we now have the first electric N model and purely electric and (other) cars have to follow.”

2025 Hyundai Ioniq 5N - interior REL

The Ioniq 5 N gets unique sport seats, metal pedals and steering wheel. And there are performance features integrated into the twin 12.3-inch displays.

HLN: How soon?

Wartenberg: Good question. Anything else can come as quickly as within the next 12 to 24 months. We’re working on both technologies (but) battery technology is moving quicker than the combustion engine. Both will have a future in Hyundai N as long as regulations allow.

HLN: The EPA recently revised new emissions regulations which now promote plug-in hybrids as well as EVs, and even hydrogen fuel-cells. Could we see those technologies coming with N brand badges?

Wartenberg: That’s definitely a possibility. We’re looking at all possibilities. We have hybrids in our portfolio, just not at N. Things are volatile. And we are quite flexible. But we believe there is no way around battery-electric. I think everyone agrees. It’s just the timing.  In terms of hydrogen, we’re quite (positive about) the fuel-cell and may see something with that, as well. We will start with the Ioniq 5 N and go from there in the next two or three years.

HLN: Let’s wrap up by looking at the next 10 to 15 years: will electric vehicles be a small part of N or will they dominate?

Wartenberg: They’re surprising because even with a heavier battery and today’s technology, (they) are quite astonishing. 2024 is a starting point but I think we can see some volume. It shows enthusiasts that electric vehicles are fun to drive.

HLN: What will it take to make them work for the majority of performance car buyers?

Wartenberg: We’re working on things of course. It would help to be a bit more lightweight. And costs needs to come down. This will be beneficial for fans and customers as lighter cars will be more agile and give more of a racing feeling a fun feeling which is the core of the N brand. And if that can be delivered to a lower cost, I think everybody will be happy.


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