The 2011 Elantra was Hyundai’s major debut at last week’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The new Elantra is among the emerging class of small gas-powered cars that achieve better than 40 mpg on the highway. It achieves 29 mpg in the city and 40 mpg highway with both the six-speed automatic or manual transmission.
More importantly, the Elantra provides mounting evidence about how the company will reach its lofty goal of achieving a fleet-wide average of 50 MPG by 2025—way ahead of government deadlines.
Putting Gas Engines on a Diet
The Elantra’s Nu engine, developed to replace the 2.0-liter Beta engine from the previous generation Elantra, is smaller and weighs 74 pounds less—helping to achieve an 18-percent improvement in highway fuel economy. The Elantra’s hybrid-like low emissions allow it to be certified as a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle. “We’re trying to find solutions that are friendlier to the environment, but still give the kind of drive that customers expect,” said Mike O’Brien, Hyundai vice-president of production planning, in an interview with HybridCars.com. That’s a huge point for Hyundai as it pushes forward on its MPG goals—to provide fuel economy improvements with “typical” drive feel.
“We’re the first to the market with turbo gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine that replaces our V6 engine,” O’Brien said. “In fact, it gives better horsepower, better driving performance, and better fuel economy than all our V6 competitors.” The same foundation was applied to the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which employs better aerodynamics, lighter-weight batteries, and more horsepower at levels that beat the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Nissan Altima Hybrid.
There’s no word yet on Sonata Hybrid’s price—but the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, which starts at $14,830, wins against competitors such as the 2011 Chevy Cruze and 2012 Ford Focus by almost $1,500.
Next Step: Plug-Ins
While O’Brien was most keen to talk about the ho-hum tech advantages, like weight reduction, direct injection, and variable timing—or producing hybrids with a driving feel similar to pure gas-powered cars—Hyundai’s technology pathway goes beyond small efficient gas cars and even conventional hybrids. “We’re certainly looking at plug-in hybrids down the road,” O’Brien said. “We’re very anxious to start talking about that in the near future.” (O’Brien was more hesitant about pure electric cars.) By 2025, the company hopes to generate 20 percent of its annual sales from hybrids, and 5 percent from electric drivetrain vehicles.
Adding plug-in technology—on top of a solid foundation of improved and affordable gas engines—clearly puts Hyundai on the track to achieving its 50-mpg target in the next decade and a half. The company is playing for keeps.