Hyundai Motor Group consolidates its autonomous-vehicle unit into a new entity called the Intelligent Safety Technology Center at its Hyundai-Kia R&D center in Namyang, South Korea, and lures a General Motors expert to lead work on the technology.

Hyundai recruits Jinwoo Lee, GM’s chief researcher on self-driving cars, news the Korean automaker kept under wraps until he began his new duties Feb. 13. Lee brings a track record of outstanding specialized expertise to Hyundai’s quest for commercially viable autonomous vehicles, the automaker says.

While both Hyundai and Kia have similar autonomous-vehicle projects under way, late last year at a symposium Lee said development of a mass-produced autonomous vehicle had a long way to go. He spoke of the five levels of AV development and noted the industry was somewhere between Level One and Level Two. Level Two, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, is partial automation.

Level Three and Level Four are stages where autonomous vehicles operate in some driving modes. A fully autonomous vehicle is achieved at Level Five.

At the symposium, Lee emphasized such a vehicle must be faultless, without a single malfunction in a million operations. He also emphasized it must be commercially viable at a competitive price point.

At the CES held in Las Vegas last month, Hyundai displayed and provided test drives of an autonomous Ioniq sedan using a sensory system mounted in the vehicle’s front bumper, as opposed to the rooftop and other extraneous sensing systems employed by other automakers.

Hyundai Motor America’s Mike O’Brien, vice president- product planning, says Hyundai can deliver an affordable AV and is focused on putting the autonomous features in vehicles already in production.

HMA’s Andre Ravinowich, manager-vehicle technology, said at CES that a Level Five AV was “not far away” and “a lot closer than many people think.”

Kia Motors Vice President Seung Ho Hwang said at the same show his company would bring a fully autonomous car to market by 2030. He said that by 2020 Kia will commercialize partially autonomous driving. Kia is billing the package as “Drive Wise.”

Tae-won Lim, senior vice president-Hyundai Motor Group’s Central Advanced Research and Engineering Institute, has noted: “Kia is undergoing a very promising and gradual process of introducing partially and fully autonomous technologies to its vehicles.

“Although the first marketable fully autonomous car from Kia will not be available in the immediate future, the work our R&D teams are currently doing to develop our range of Drive Wise technologies is already improving on-road safety and driver assistance. The innovations presented at (CES) demonstrate the future direction we are taking.”

Both Hyundai and Kia spokesmen confirm a $2 billion allocation from Hyundai Motor Group for AV research for 2017-2018.

The Hyndai-Kia Namyang R&D Center has five advanced-AV projects under way for Hyundai. They include three autonomous Ioniqs and two autonomous Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles. Kia is applying the autonomous features to a broad range of its production vehicles.

Lee earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology at 28, and later completed five years of postdoctoral research at Cornell University.

At Cornell, he headed the autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle programs for the mechanical engineering department.

Lee in 2006 joined GM, where he was the lead researcher for the GM future autonomous-driving project. He specialized in autonomous vehicle motion control and its application in developing advanced driver assistance systems.

Lee pioneered GM’s first autonomous lane-centering and lane-changing vehicle.