2015 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 LimitedEnlarge Photo
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 HybridEnlarge Photo
"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.
2016 Kia Soul EVEnlarge Photo
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.