Hyundai's ambitious plans to offer more green cars than any other maker except Toyota may have tilted slightly toward electric cars.
At least, that is, if a tip from a source close to the company is to be believed.
According to the report, Hyundai has decided that it will offer an all-electric "AE" version of its forthcoming dedicated "Prius fighter," a high-tailed and aerodynamically efficient hatchback, before the end of next year.
Hyundai declined to comment on that assertion. Today, it sells only a single plug-in vehicle: the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid, with an electric range of 24 miles.
In an interview this past January, we had learned that the company will launch a dedicated design, not shared with any existing Hyundai model, that can accommodate a variety of different efficient powertrains.
Ki-Sang Lee, a senior vice president and head of Hyundai's R&D Center for "eco-friendly vehicles," told Green Car Reports that the platform Hyundai will use for the dedicated hybrid can also be used for both plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles--with just minor changes to the exterior.
2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid
"For electric cars," he said, "we feel a battery must deliver up to 200 or 300 kilometers (124 to 186 miles) of range," though he said those were largely for "use as city cars."
"We are also preparing higher-capacity batteries," he added. "Perhaps we will offer optional systems that provide more range, but they will come at a higher price."
That would seem to indicate a vehicle that could compete head-to-head with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which GM CEO Mary Barra said in January will provide 200 miles of battery range and carry a base price of $37,500 before incentives.
It would also compete with the second-generation Nissan Leaf, expected for the 2017 or 2018 model year, and very likely a longer-range battery-electric vehicle from BMW as well.
Hyundai's sister company presently offers the Kia Soul EV, with an EPA-rated range of 93 miles, in California.
That electric tall wagon has been more successful than expected, Kia has said, and it is working to boost production and offer the Soul EV in more regions.
Kia, however, refuses to release sales figures for the Soul EV, so there is no way to verify its claims or assess the Soul EV's sales performance against other electric cars.
Hyundai was expected to launch the "Prius fighter," which shares some elements of its underpinnings with the next Elantra subcompact sedan, later this year. That would put it on sale as a 2016 model.
Now it appears that Hyundai plans to launch the battery-electric version of that car within a year of that date.
Our source couldn't tell us whether the two cars will appear simultaneously, or which one would come first if not.
Given the imminent launch of the 2016 Toyota Prius, however, it's not inconceivable that Hyundai may have decided to pair its own dedicated hybrid with an all-electric alternative model to offer a unique selling point.
That would be a vehicle that Toyota can't compete with, because it has no plans to offer any battery-electric vehicles in the U.S.
Toyota will offer a plug-in hybrid model of the new fourth-generation Prius, with a lag of roughly a year after the standard hybrid model, that could offer an electric range as high as 30 miles--if our information is accurate.
The Hyundai Prius-fighter will have a plug-in hybrid model too, at some point. But Toyota has no plans for a battery-only Prius, meaning Hyundai could steal a march on the Japanese maker by offering all three variants.
So while Toyota trumpets its new Prius, expected to offer a 55-mpg combined EPA fuel efficiency rating, Hyundai could claim entirely different bragging rights.
If Hyundai could get an all-electric "AE" hatchback into at least some dealers before the Bolt EV or second-generation Nissan launches, it would offer the longest-range electric car that isn't a Tesla.
That might prove more appealing than attempting to go head-to-head with industry giant Toyota, which has sold more than 8 million hybrids globally and pretty much defines the image of hybrid vehicles in the U.S.
We did get one additional piece of information, however: The Hyundai "AE" electric hatchback will require 8 hours for a full battery recharge.
The Kia Soul EV has a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, and we'd expect Hyundai to use the same component--which suggests to us that the "AE" has a fairly large battery pack, perhaps 40 to 50 kilowatt-hours.
Scaling up directly from the Soul EV's range of 93 miles from 27 kWh, the Hyundai "AE" could be rated at 155 miles from a 45-kWh pack. But the better aerodynamics of a lower, less blocky hatchback might boost that number by 10 percent or more.
2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited
With Hyundai's price positioning--slightly lower than its mass-market competitors--that could make the new and so-far unnamed Hyundai electric car a very interesting new entry indeed.
Green Car Reports reached out to Hyundai to ask about the "AE" electric-car plan.
"We do not comment on future product plans," said Chris Hosford, the executive director of corporate communications at Hyundai Motor America.
That's a standard response from any automaker to questions about future products, existing or not, that it doesn't want to discuss.
"We have said for some time that we will have an all-electric vehicle that will go on sale within the next several years," Hosford continued.
"But [we] have not made any comments on that vehicle beyond that," he said, "and we have not offered a specific year when such a vehicle would go on sale."
The company is aware of "spyshots" of vehicles purported to be prototypes of the hatchback "Prius beater" that have been photographed testing in multiple U.S. locations, Hosford said.
Hyundai has "no comment on the vehicles, or the allegations that they represent future Hyundai products," he concluded.