Hyundai’s never been short of ambition, and that was clear as the Korean automaker’s director of eco-vehicle development announced the company’s plan to have 26 alt-energy cars and SUVs — including six electric vehicles and two with hydrogen fuel cells — on sale by 2020.
It’s a bold goal, particularly since it coincides with Hyundai’s plan to launch six vehicles for its Genesis luxury brand in the same period. Few automakers have tackled bigger engineering challenges, and none have done it so publicly.
The all-new Ioniq hybrid car that goes on sale in the U.S. late this year is Hyundai’s first move. The compact Ioniq was developed specifically to challenge the Toyota Prius as the world’s best hybrid, director Byung Ki Ahn said over lunch at the Rattlesnake Club on the Detroit riverfront last week. It uses a new architecture that was developed specifically for hybrids and electric vehicles. The architecture, developed under the program name AE, also underpins the Kia Niro hybrid SUV, also expected to go on sale late this year. The Hyundai Group controls Kia. The two brands share engineering and technology but have very different designs.
Hyundai will sell conventional hybrid and all-electric versions of the Ioniq in the U.S. this year. A plug-in hybrid will follow late in the second quarter of 2017. The hatchback Ioniq will be the only vehicle in the world to offer all three powertrain choices in a single body style. Hyundai hasn’t announced pricing for any of the cars yet, but expect them to be close to their arch rival, the Toyota Prius.
Hyundai came to the hybrid game late, but its technology has progressed quickly. It sold its first hybrid — a Sonata midsize sedan — in 2011, more than a decade after other leading automakers plunged into the green-car race. Despite that late start, the 2016 Sonata plug-in hybrid can go 27 miles on electricity alone and scored 40 m.p.g. combined city/highway in EPA tests. Both figures beat the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid handily.
Hyundai is aiming for bigger game with the Ioniq. It hopes to beat the fuel economy and electric range of Toyota’s Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid. The target is more than 56 m.p.g. in EPA tests.
The battery-only Ioniq EV aims to beat the Nissan Leaf and VW e-Golf by offering a range of 120 miles on a charge. The Chevrolet Bolt will have blown past that with its 200-mile range on a charge about the same time the Ioniq EV goes on sale late this year. Hyundai hopes to have a 220-mile EV on sale in 2020, but won’t say if it’ll be an Ioniq.
By 2020, Hyundai will offer 10 hybrids, eight plug-in hybrids, six EVs and two fuel cell vehicles, Ahn said. The automaker's new Genesis luxury brand will have an EV, but Hyundai won't say when.
The company plans to make a global splash using its green vehicles when South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics in February 2018. Expect Hyundai hybrids, EVs and fuel cell vehicles to shuttle Olympic athletes and officials around the games.
Hyundai also hopes its eco-cars and SUVs will distinguish themselves as being more fun to drive than the competition. It’s one of the few automakers that publicizes 0-60 m.p.h. times for hybrids and EVS — about 10 seconds for the Ioniq EV, 10.8 for the Ioniq hybrid. Kia’s hybrids also use a sporty dual-clutch transmission while most competitive hybrids opt for thrifty continuously variable transmissions to deliver a sportier driving experience and avoid patent battles with automakers who got into the hybrid game earlier.
“Fun to drive will be one of the ways Hyundai distinguishes itself from other hybrids,” Ahn said.
Hyundai concedes that Toyota’s decades of work and millions of hybrid sales lock it in as the No.1 maker of green vehicles in the public’s eye, but No. 2 is up for grabs. Hyundai plans to grab it.