As far as mass-market, high-efficiency hybrid vehicles go, there are several options but really just one big show in town. That would be the Toyota Prius, a car that started out on the fringes of the automotive landscape and has since become an integral pillar of today’s market, not just in the U.S., but around the world, as well.
Since the late 1990s, when the Prius first arrived in North America, automakers from Ford to Ferrari have embraced the technology. But none have come close to genuinely upsetting the grasp that the Prius holds on the market, and for good reason: The Prius is virtually unparalleled when it comes to offering a combination of fuel efficiency, utility, price, and user friendliness. It’s not necessary sexy or performance-driven, but if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’ve missed the point of the Prius entirely.
It appears that Hyundai, though, is looking to give it a shot. To date, Hyundai’s hybrid offerings haven’t been stellar — the Sonata Hybrid was a good attempt, but falls short as far as mileage and performance goes — all while asking a healthy premium over the standard model. But as fuel economy laws around the world become increasingly stringent, the company is reportedly considering a model that would be more competitive with the venerable Prius.
Automotive News, citing Reuters, said that it would be a dedicated model, rather than an attempt to build a hybrid out of one of its existing models. “We will take the lead in the future by raising the competitiveness of our environment-friendly cars like hybrid-only cars, plug-in hybrid cars and fuel cell hydrogen cars,” Hyundai Motor CEO Kim Choong-ho was quoted as saying at a launch event for the company’s Aslan premium sedan in South Korea.
Hyundai has largely been putting its alternative fuel aspiration eggs in one basket: hydrogen fuel cells. The company hasn’t seemed to show much interest in developing a purely electric-powered vehicle, though its sister brand, Kia, has recently released an all-electric Soul. But for Hyundai, the brand gets by its fleet fuel economy standards by not having large trucks or SUVs in its portfolio, and having a stable that’s weighted in favor of small, lightweight compacts.
Not surprisingly, the company remained mum on any details about the rumored model, but if it can compete with the likes of the Prius on a statistical level, than Toyota better have a contingency plan. When the first Prius rolled off the boat and onto American shores, Hyundai was just getting its start in the U.S. And if you recall, those vehicles didn’t exactly pose an imminent threat. Now, though, Hyundai has the power to make the market move.
But it will have to be a pretty stellar car to make its mark this late in the game. Now, Ford, GM, Volkswagen, and many others all offer hybrid models, and are transitioning to the next big advancement — plug-ins that carry with them an electric-only mode, making them hugely ideal for those who only travel a few miles a day.
All the while, battery capabilities, price declines, and charging capacities are making pure electric vehicles a more feasible option with each passing quarter. So will Hyundai be able to get its hybrid together in time?