Hyundai took the wraps off its first-ever electric vehicle today in Seoul, showing a hatchback called the BlueOn based on the subcompact i10 model it sells in Asia and Europe.
As in its 2011 Sonata Hybrid model, which will launch late this year in the U.S. market, the lithium-ion cells in its battery pack are made by SK Energy, a joint venture between the carmaker and Korean cell maker LG Chem.
The battery pack in the BlueOn holds 16.4 kilowatt-hours of energy (press reports erroneously rated it as "kilowatts per hour"), giving it a range of roughly 85 miles (140 km). Maximum speed is 80 miles per hour (130 km/h).
The Hyundai BlueOn electric car will go into production in 2012, the company said. Hyundai told a Reuters correspondent that the car was "a baby step" toward electrification, pending standardized high-voltage charging infrastructure.
Hyundai will build about 2,500 early models of the car this year and during 2011 for government agencies and other fleets, before consumer sales begin in 2012. Prices have not been announced.
Hyundai's BlueOn joins a burgeoning number of electric-drive vehicles from the world's major automakers. They include the 2011 Nissan Leaf, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
Almost every major manufacturer is now planning at least small numbers of electric vehicles for consumer tests. BMW has tested its Mini E for more than a year now; Ford has electric conversions of its Transit Connect small commercial van and 2012 Focus Electric coming; and many others are on the way.
Hyundai has been late to the game with hybrids, but unlike Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and others, it has launched both hybrids and now electric cars with lithium batteries from the start. That technology offers roughly twice the energy storage per pound of the earlier nickel-metal-hydride cells used in most hybrids today.
The South Korean government wants fully 20 percent of the country's cars to run on electricity in just 10 years, a wildly ambitious goal that would give the country a leading role in electric vehicles. Whether that is achieveable is a different story altogether.