Hyundai sat on the sidelines and watched as many of its rivals surfed the retro car wave during the early 2000s. Volkswagen, Mini, Chrysler, and Chevrolet were drawing inspiration from an era during which Hyundai didn’t exist yet. Its time has finally come: it traveled to the 2019 Frankfurt auto show to introduce a heritage-laced concept named 45 that honors the little-known Pony.
The first Hyundai-made cars were Ford models manufactured under license; the Cortina notably obtained South Korean citizenship during the 1960s. The company made the leap from a mere assembler to a designer when it commissioned Giorgetto Giugiaro to develop an elegant, family-friendly hatchback named Pony. The model made its debut during the 1974 Turin auto show, so 45 years ago.
Mass produced and mass destroyed, the Pony played a significant role in helping Hyundai gain a secure foothold as a global automaker, but it was as unknown as if it had never existed until the 45 made its debut in Frankfurt. Lightning elements that look like they were drawn using an 8-bit computer bring the design study in line with the rest of the concept car world. Stylists added slope to the roof line, and they sculpted the flanks to help the 45 make a stronger visual impact than the dowdy, slab-sided Pony. It’s not as unabashedly retro-styled as the modern-day Mini Hardtop or the Fiat 500.
The interior looks like it sprung to life from an Ikea catalog. While the driver inevitably faces a color, high-resolution screen that stretches across the dashboard, the other three passengers enjoy a well-lit, uncluttered cabin made with natural materials like wood and leather. Automakers increasingly recognize motorists who operate in a digital, connected world want their car to be a place in which they can relax.
Hyundai offered little in the way of technical specifications. What’s certain is that the 45 isn’t fitted with the Pony’s carbureted, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine. The design study is all electric, all the time. Hyundai has several battery-powered models in its range to pluck powertrain components from, though there’s no guarantee the concept is functional. It might be little more than a big, stylish paperweight. Similarly, it was envisioned with autonomous driving in mind, but nothing suggests it can drive itself. It’s a rolling display of Hyundai’s design might, not a showcase of its research department’s latest projects.
The fact that powertrain details were left out of the presentation speaks volumes. The 45 is a statement of intent, it’s a broad indication of what Hyundai’s future electric cars might look like, but it’s not an accurate preview of a production model that’s already under development. Don’t expect a toned-down version of the car to join the Kona and the Venue in the South Korean firm’s showrooms anytime soon.