Hyundai Motor America announced today that it will be able to achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2015, five years ahead of the timetable for new fuel economy regulations. The company revealed its fuel economy goals at the Los Angeles Auto Show, where it unveiled Hyundai’s first gas-electric hybrid vehicle, the Hyundai Sonata sedan—slated for the North American market in 2010.
“We’re taking fuel efficiency higher and faster than any other carmaker. We’re going to pass Toyota and Honda by 2015,” said John Krafcik, vice president of product development at Hyundai Motor America, in an interview with HybridCars.com.
Maximizing MPG-Per-Dollar Ratio
Hyundai’s fuel efficiency campaign—dubbed “Hyundai Blue Drive”—features a range of advanced technologies, including hybrids powered by lithium batteries, turbocharged gasoline direct injection, and eventually plug-in hybrids and fuel cell electric vehicles. But in keeping with its brand, Hyundai will also focus on near-term, low-cost fuel efficiency strategies—such as low-rolling-resistance tires, enhanced aerodynamics, and revised engine calibrations—to offer the highest mpg at the lowest cost. Next year, Hyundai will introduce these measures in “blue versions” of its Accent and Elantra models, allowing the company to price the higher-mpg models lower than conventional models.
A base-level Hyundai Accent sells for approximately $11,000, and offers combined fuel economy of 30 mpg. An “Accent Blue” could conceivably sell for below $10,000, with mpg in the mid-30s.
“In this age, fuel efficiency is the new zero-to-60 time. It’s more socially relevant”
“We don’t think you should have to be rich to afford a high efficiency vehicle,” said Krafcik. “That’s a backwards approach.” Krafcik believes there is a new wave of consumers willing to make significant compromises—such as reducing vehicle weight by riding without a spare tire, swapping power windows and door locks for manual cranks, and trading the smoothest ride for lower tire resistance—in order to maximize miles-per-gallon. Maybe it’s time for the return of the econobox, 21st century-style?
Krafcik compared today’s breed of efficiency enthusiasts with yesterday’s muscle car fans who opted for performance over comfort. “In this age, fuel efficiency is the new zero-to-60 time,” he said. “It’s more socially relevant.”
The Sonata Hybrid’s Lithium Batteries
Hyundai developed its own homegrown hybrid architecture for use in the Sonata. The technical design, known as a parallel hybrid system, will serve as the foundation for future hybrid drive vehicles introduced by Hyundai. In a parallel hybrid, the wheels are turned by power coming directly from the gasoline engine, the electric motor, or both together, as conditions demand. This approach is similar to the design used by Toyota and Ford.
The more significant innovation is the use of a lithium polymer battery system provided by Hyundai’s battery supplier, LG Chem. According to Hyundai, the lithium batteries deliver the same power as today’s hybrid nickel metal hydride batteries—but with 30 percent less weight, 50 percent less volume and 10 percent greater efficiency.
Despite industry concerns about the price and availability of lithium batteries, Krafcik said it wasn’t a hard decision to make the move to lithium. He admits that Hyundai is late to the hybrid market—the Sonata is about two years away from dealerships—and expressed the desire to demonstrate a leadership position with its first hybrid entry. “We asked ourselves where the technology is going to be in five years,” he said. “And how we can get to that end point ahead of time.”