It's been a quiet period for hybrid news lately, with the 2016 Toyota Prius launch delayed and still more than a year away.
But further down the road, it appears that both Hyundai and Ford now plan to offer dedicated hybrids--vehicles designed specifically around a hybrid powertrain that offer no gasoline-only version.
That's been the model followed by Toyota for the Prius since 1997.
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But aside from the now-defunct Honda Insight, there have been no other volume cars designed solely as hybrids.
2015 Toyota Prius Liftback
That will apparently change in 2016 and beyond.
The advantage of a dedicated hybrid is clear: Every aspect of the car can be optimized for efficiency, rather than having to adapt the electric motor(s), battery pack, and associated electronics into an existing car designed largely for gasoline engines.
Dedicated Hyundai hybrid soon
Hyundai is planning a dedicated hybrid, possibly a family of them, for launch in 2016 or later, according to a report last week.
Separately, another report indicates that Ford is now planning to offer its own dedicated hybrid as a 2019 model as well.
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The Hyundai hybrid may well be the current incarnation of its Blue-Will plug-in hybrid concept, first shown back in 2009 and 2010.
The spy shots of Hyundai hybrid development mules published by Autoblog don't show a plug, so it seems likely Hyundai will first launch a conventional hybrid model before extending the new range to include a plug-in variant.
The first model of the new Hyundai hybrid could be introduced as early as next year, making it a 2016 model.
2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, April 2013
The Korean maker has not offered a hybrid version of its redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata mid-size sedan. Instead, the 2015 Sonata Hybrid is a carryover model using the body of the previous-generation car.
Family of Hyundai hybrids?
Whether Hyundai would launch the dedicated hybrid while maintaining a Sonata Hybrid model in the new-generation car is unclear. That's the path followed by Toyota--which offers both the Prius and a Camry Hybrid sedan.
Hyundai is far less established in the hybrid market, however, and may choose to focus its near-term efforts on the dedicated hybrid--which may, like the Prius, become a family of hybrid vehicles over time.
Based on the Blue-Will concept car, there is undoubtedly a plug-in hybrid model to come. At this point, it's clear that pretty much every major global automaker will offer at least some plug-in hybrids for sale by 2020--though volumes remain highly debatable.
Autoblog's report also notes that the development mules came in two different lengths, perhaps indicating not only a competitor for the well-known Prius Liftback, but also one for the Prius V wagon.
2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid
2019 Ford dedicated hybrid
Meanwhile, Reuters reports on a new project to develop a dedicated Ford compact hybrid vehicle, known currently only by its project number of C240.
While the Ford C-Max Hybrid and Energi models are effectively dedicated hybrids in North America, they were first designed and built with gasoline and diesel engines in Europe and other markets. The hybrid came later, as a sort of retrofit.
The new 2019 hybrid would be built on Ford's upcoming C2 compact vehicle architecture, the successor to the current design used for vehicles that include the Ford Focus sedan and hatchback, C-Max tall hatchback, and Escape crossover.
The powertrain is expected to be an evolution of Ford's current system, which presently pairs a 2.0-liter gasoline engine with a two-motor hybrid transmission and a lithium-ion battery pack.
Ford, too, could offer a family of hybrids, inevitably including an Energi plug-in hybrid model. According to the report, the company expects to build up to 120,000 per year at its Wayne assembly plant outside Detroit.
2015 Ford F-150
Aluminum for efficiency?
In all of 2013, Ford sold 86,038 hybrids across five models. It has sold 54,192 in the seven months so far this year.
Ford might conceivably use a substantial quantity of aluminum in its 2019 dedicated hybrid.
Next year, Ford will become the largest maker of aluminum vehicles in the world, when the aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 goes into full production.
The weight reductions from such a lightweight body might give Ford an edge on a 55-mpg 2016 Prius, if Toyota's fourth-generation car remains all-steel.
It's unclear whether the cost of aluminum four years later would make a 2019 Ford hybrid simply too expensive to compete with the Prius. Toyota benefits from the economies of scale of building more hybrids than any other carmaker.
Still, we have several years to learn about the future Ford--whereas the Hyundai hybrid is likely to arrive within a couple of years.