Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hyundai Veloster Facelift Includes New 7-speed DCT, Light Cosmetics

Hyundai hasn't given the Veloster the exterior overhaul that we expected, but it has outfitted the quirky, oddly doored hatchback with some new tech, at least in the Korean market.

The biggest change for the Veloster is confirmation that the previously rumored seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox will replace the current six-speed unit in the Turbo. It's mated to the same 1.6-liter, forced-induction four-cylinder featuring 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.

The exterior receives a few tiny tweaks, too, with new wheel designs and slightly different silver trim around the grille, but the bigger changes are found in the cabin. Those alterations aren't limited to new materials: Hyundai has included a new engine sound equalizer for the Veloster that lets drivers select from six different engine soundtracks. The instrument cluster also gets slightly altered, and there are new two-tone looks for the seats, as well.

According to a blog post by Hyundai, the price for the Turbo with the seven-speed dual clutch starts at 23.7 million won ($22,000). Unfortunately, there's no official word whether these changes are going to make it across the Pacific to the US market. We've got an inquiry in with Hyundai Motor America, and will let you know if we hear more.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hyundai Plans Hybrids, Electric Cars & More: 5 Questions With Green R&D Head Ki-Sang Lee

The Hyundai Motor Group, encompassing both the Hyundai and Kia brands, is known as one of the most aggressive competitors in the global auto business.

And the company has big plans for expanding its lineup of green vehicles, as we learned in an interview last week with Ki-Sang Lee, a senior vice president who's head of its R&D Center for "eco-friendly vehicles."

We spoke with Lee and several other company executives at last week's Detroit Auto Show, at which the company launched its 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid models.

The following questions have been condensed and reworded from a wide-ranging interview. They summarize the points made by Lee and his colleagues about future green vehicles from Hyundai.

How does the 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid differ from the regular hybrid model?

We have increased the output of the electric motor from 38 to 55 kilowatts (51 to 74 horsepower), so it can power the car alone in charge-depleting mode.

We consider this system to be the second generation of our hybrid technology, after we launched our first hybrid for 2011 and revised it for 2013. The engine is smaller (it is now 2.0 liters), and the battery is more compact.

For the plug-in hybrid, drivers always want more electric range, but they don't think about the price. They just say they want a range that's as long as possible.

Extra battery capacity in a plug-in hybrid is often unnecessary, something that drivers don't use often, and it increases the weight and the price of a vehicle.

We think about the price of the whole system. We believe that up to 30 miles of electric driving can be provided at a reasonable price, and it will cover more than half of the daily driving people do in the U.S.

How will you evolve that system in years to come?

The third generation of our hybrid system will come next year, in our dedicated hybrid vehicle.

That will use our dual-clutch transmission (now offered in the U.S. only in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco model), rather than the adapted six-speed automatic transmission in today's hybrids.

We have developed range-extended electric vehicles in our research labs, but only to prepare for possible future use.

We have not decided yet if that is a technology we would offer.

So Hyundai will have hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and a dedicated hybrid-only vehicle soon; what about electric cars?
The platform we will use for the dedicated hybrid can also be used for plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles, with only minor changes to the exterior.

For electric cars, we feel a battery must deliver up to 200 or 300 kilometers (124 to 186 miles) of range.

But these are relatively small vehicles, for use as city cars. For larger vehicles that cover longer distances, we believe the hydrogen fuel cell is the solution.

But we are also preparing higher-capacity batteries. Perhaps we will offer optional systems that provide more range, but they will come at a higher price.
Lithium-ion batteries still have room to improve. We guess that by 2040 or 2050, we will have a next generation of energy storage for vehicles with a dramatic increase in energy density.

That will allow pure electric vehicles to increase their range beyond 180 miles. But we still feel hydrogen fuel cells will be at the top of the range.

How do you see hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles evolving?

They will provide a range of up to 500 or 700 km (310 to 435 miles), and after 20 to 30 years, fuel-cell cars can be competitive on price with gasoline vehicles.

Infrastructure is a challenge, of course. We are a car company, and we will work with partners--like First Element Fuel. We have been talking to many partners for several years.

Each country will have its own strategy for providing hydrogen fuel. Right now, government agencies in Korea and in the state of California are very supportive.

But the infrastructure is very complicated--and we have to make a profit on the cars we sell.

What led Hyundai to choose a one-motor hybrid system, rather than the two-motor design used by Toyota and Ford?

We think that hybrids will rise to 10 to 15 percent of the global market in the future. But customers are still hesitant, based on the price of the cars.

We decided to use one electric motor to reduce the total system cost. That gives us more room than the competition in pricing the overall system.

Also, our setup allows the electric motor to assist even at highway speeds.

Perhaps we have a little bit of a handicap in city driving, but at higher speeds, our hybrids can use both the engine and the motor. In two-motor systems, one of those motors is used only to control engine speed.

So we may have efficiency that's slightly lower in the city--perhaps 3 to 5 percent--but we gain 10 percent or more at highway speeds over the efficiency of the twin-motor design. For American use in particular, that's important.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hyundai's Santa Fe Sport Close to Perfect

There are few crossovers that come close to being the perfect blend of car and SUV, yet are comfortable and affordable too — but Hyundai's Santa Fe Sport is pretty close.

Hyundai remodeled its popular Santa Fe crossover lineup a couple years back and split it into two models, the larger and heavier Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Sport, which is smaller and sportier. The latter is the way to go.

My frost pearl white Sport looked luxurious and was loaded with a ton of features, part of the Ultimate Package. At its core it's a high performing midsize crossover for a family of four or five. It handles and rides well and has enough power to make it borderline fun.

The tester was the Sport AWD 2.0T, the upper end Santa Fe Sport with a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 and all-wheel-drive. It lists at $33,000, plus an $875 delivery fee. The Ultimate Package added $4,350, pushing the tab to $38,350. There is a base model starting at $25,845 including delivery. It touts a 190-horse 2.4-liter I4 and comes with front-wheel drive.

You can move to an AWD model for $27,575, or get a front-drive version with the turbo for $31,250.

The I4 comes with direct injection and a turbocharger to give more power, but allow the four-cylinder to run more efficiently for running errands. That means you get 264 horsepower when entering a highway, but more modest power around town.

The result is decent fuel economy. This model is rated 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway and I got 19.5 mpg in about a 50/50 split and 26 mpg in all highway. There is an Eco mode button on the dash to help increase that mileage, and I used it fairly regularly around town. It slows your acceleration some. The base 2.4-liter I4 is rated 21 mpg city and 29 highway in front-drive configuration.

The turbo was responsive and the power smooth and well handled by the 6-speed automatic transmission. This is a Shiftronic unit, which allows you to shift manually, but you'll likely find that unnecessary about 95% of the time.

Ride seemed better than in previous models. The Sport rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, about perfect for a smooth ride and good handling. There are MacPherson struts in the front suspension and a multi-link system in back. Both have gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bars. The Santa Fe handled rough roads with authority, no chop or jarring to passengers.

Handling is on the sporty side with three driving modes that affect the steering effort. There's Comfort, Normal and Sport, with only the Sport being particularly heavy. Other modes are easy to control and fairly responsive, and Comfort has the lightest touch. Santa Fe corners well thanks to what Hyundai calls Active Cornering Control that uses torque vectoring and the ABS system to create more stability in corners.

There are stability control and traction control systems, and the AWD gives the Santa Fe better grip in snow and slush.

Santa Fe's interior includes a well laid-out dash, good seating and plenty of tech options.

The test SUV had a two-tone brown over tan dash and door trim along with tan perforated leather seats. Trim around the brown console is matte silver, along with a few other trim bits, and this one included fake wood inserts by the air vents on either side of the dash. Those actually looked a bit low-end, but the overall styling is handsome.

The manual tilt/telescope wheel is wrapped in leather and has a variety of buttons for cruise, phone, radio and trip computer on the hub. There's also a Blue Link system which links up navigation, e-messaging and vehicle information. It's accessible via a smartphone.

Hyundai's main gauges are easy to see and read, with blue rings in the center, and all dash buttons glow blue at night, which is pleasant and easy on the eyes. All controls are easy to see and reach, and push-button start is standard.

Standard on the 2.0T is blind spot detection that lights up in the side mirrors, a rear cross-traffic alert that warns if a vehicle or person is behind you, and a rearview camera. Lane change assist also comes on this model.

Another plus is a proximity key that not only unlocks the vehicle as you approach, but allows you to stand behind the power liftgate for just a second or two before it automatically powers up.

Other standard features on the 2.0T include side roof rails, fog lights, a dual climate control system and heated front seats, power driver's seat with power lumbar support and a spiffy 40/20/40 split rear seat.

The Ultimate Package kicks Santa Fe up a few notches. While pricey, it includes 19-inch alloy wheels and 19-inch tires, HID headlights and LED taillights, plus a giant panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7 stereo with surround sound and an 8-inch touch screen, which by the way, actually responds to your touch even when the user is wearing gloves.

The package also includes ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Seating is well formed and comfortable in both the front and second row, plus the rear seats will slide about 5 inches forward to create more storage room. Those seats also recline. I like the manual side window sunshades in back.

There's much to like and little that's off-putting with the Santa Fe Sport. This one may surprise you when you test drive it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hyundai Motor to Cut Price of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

Hyundai Motor Co., the nation’s largest carmaker, has decided to lower the price of its Tucson fuel cell sport utility vehicle to compete with rising Japanese rival Toyota Motor in the segment, industry sources said.

Hyundai Motor recently informed Gwangju City, a major local buyer of the Tucson FCV, of its internal decision to cut the car price,” an industry insider close to the matter said on condition of anonymity last week.
Gwangju City, which purchased five Hyundai FCVs last year, has a plan to buy 10 more Tucson FCVs this year for use during the Gwangju Summer Universiade in July.

Hyundai Motor made the move, pressed by Toyota’s fast move to create a market for its first fuel cell car Mirai, armed with bargain-price,’’ the insider said.

Toyota debuted the FCV Mirai, a mid-size four-door sedan, at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show in November with a price tag of 7.24 million yen ($62,000). The price is almost half that of a Tucson FCV priced at 150 million won ($139,000). Both prices exclude the government rebates.

However, Hyundai seems to need more time to decide how much it will reduce the price of its strategic eco-car, he added.

“It is a possible scenario for Hyundai to choose a bold price-cutting option, considering a wide price gap between the Tucson FCV and Mirai,’’ said Kim Phil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University.

Hyundai Motor jumpstarted the “ultimate’’ eco-car market last February, completing the assembly line for the mass production of its FCV for the first time in the world last February, but the carmaker sold only 200 units mainly because of the expensive car price.

The carmaker sold only 10 units at home last year. In Korea, the government subsides $55,700 per Tucson FCV unit, meaning that individual Korean consumers still have to pay $83,500 to buy Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered car.

In contrast, Toyota announced last Thursday that the Mirai fuel cell sedans racked up approximately 1,500 orders in Japan, a month after sales began on Dec. 15, 2014.

The Japanese carmaker said about 60 percent of the orders came from government offices and corporate fleets, and 40 percent from individual consumers.

“Without the new price policy, Hyundai Motor in the hydrogen-powered car sector could lose its market leadership role to Toyota,” the professor said.

Since the launch of Mirai last November, Toyota has moved faster than expected to create demand for the model. At the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, the Japanese carmaker announced it would release its 5,680 patents related to fuel cell technology by 2020 to become a game-changer in the sector.

Another thing holding back sales in Korea of the Tucson FCV is the lack of hydrogen fueling stations, which is key for creating a market environment for the car. Korea has only around 10 stations nationwide. The Ministry of Environment, which is in charge of building the fueling infrastructure, plans to increase the number of stations to 200 by 2025.

Japan is moving faster than Korea in this sector as well. According to the Japanese government’s long-term road map for a “hydrogen society,” about 100 hydrogen fueling stations will be installed this year in major Japanese cities.

“It is time for Hyundai Motor and the government to sit down together to discuss a strategic approach toward rising completion for fuel cell cars,’’ Kim said.

Besides Toyota, Honda Motor is planning to market its FCVs in 2015, and Nissan Motor will follow the move in 2017.

German car giants are jumping on the bandwagon as well. Mercedes-Benz, for instance, has signed off on a B-class hydrogen car, which is expected to be produced in small scale and sold in 2017.