Hyundai Has Prius-Killer in the Works

Hyundai is working on a new hybrid-only model to directly compete against the Toyota Prius. “We are studying a dedicated Prius-fighter vehicle, meaning a hybrid-specific nameplate that isn’t based off a Sonata or a Santa Fe,” Miles Johnson, Hyundai product public relations manager, told “It’s its own thing.”

While Johnson did not confirm a specific production date, he placed the new hybrid-only model ahead of the Hyundai Blue Will plug-in hybrid concept. “We’ve also been studying plug-in hybrid technology, which is a bit farther out for us. But the near-term would be a Prius-sized vehicle,” Johnson said. “You can look at the dimensions of the Blue Will concept and see it would be a similar package and size to a Prius.”

Automotive News last year reported that the four-door Blue Will will launch in the United States in late 2012, according to Yang Woong-Chul, president of Hyundai-Kia Motors’ R&D division. Although the date for the Blue Will plug-in hybrid could easily slip into 2013 or later, the implication is that a new Hyundai hybrid-only model could go into production in the next two years.

Moving Target for Green Top Spot

“A hybrid vehicle usually takes double the time of a standard production car, and a plug-in even more than that,” Johnson said. “Think about how long GM has been spending on the Chevy Volt. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we’ve got some good partners with LG Chem on the batteries.” Johnson downplayed the reality of the Blue Will plug-in hybrid as “just a concept car,” but pointed to a Hyundai “Prius-fighter” as more immediate and real. “We have a lot of engineers working quietly behind the scenes. We’re really moving as fast as we can.” Both projects are being developed at Hyundai’s Namyang design center in South Korea.

Honda made its own attempt at knocking the Toyota Prius off the top spot on the green mantle when it introduced the 2010 Honda Insight last year. But the company was not successful. The 2010 Insight is almost a carbon copy of the Prius—but is smaller, uses a less robust hybrid system, and is less fuel efficient and not significantly less expensive.

Hyundai will take a different approach. We can look at the shape and design of the Blue Will—which employs Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” concept—for cues on the shape of a new Hyundai hybrid-only model. Johnson said the Blue Will was like “fluidic sculpture on steroids.” So, tone down all the flourishes and gadgetry to predict the design direction of a new ground-up Hyundai hybrid.

Toyota sells more Priuses than all other hybrids combined. It will be difficult for any other carmaker to pass the Prius strictly in terms of sales, but by the time Hyundai introduces its Prius-fighter, the Toyota Prius might no longer be the green car to beat. The Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and all-electric Nissan Leaf, which respectively use little or no gasoline, will be in full production next year. In addition, Toyota will be competing against itself for top green honors when it introduces the plug-in version of the Prius in 2012. The key question, of course, is price. It’s too early to tell how low Hyundai is willing to price a new hybrid-specific model—but it will have to keep the price tag at $20,000 or lower if it wants to undercut the red-hot competition for green affordability.

The Highway Hybrid

In terms of technology, a new Prius-like Hyundai likely will follow the direction of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, due for release in late 2010. That model uses Hyundai’s proprietary full hybrid system with lithium polymer batteries. Great pains were taken to reduce weight and improve aerodynamics in the Sonata Hybrid. An original platform should allow Hyundai to go even further. Moreover, Hyundai is emphasizing efficiency in highway driving instead of city driving.

Some hybrid drivers have been disappointed when real-world mileage does not meet the MPG numbers on the window sticker. Hyundai executives expect to earn customer loyalty by configuring and calibrating its hybrid system to emphasize faster driving, mostly on the highway. “We’re trying to delight our customers so when they see what’s on an EPA label on a Hyundai vehicle, that number is actually achievable,” said Johnson.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent fuel economy report, Hyundai is the most fuel-efficient automaker in America. Last year, Hyundai’s leadership promised to achieve the government-mandated 2016 fuel efficient standard of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2015 or earlier. “As a company, about five years ago, the chairman came out and said we need to have laser-like focus on quality. We’ve done that,” Johnson said. “Now, you’re seeing a new focus on design and the environment.”

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  • Lost Prius to wife

    I am not sure about the fancy “fluid” design, but Hyundai did say that the Sonata Hybrid would have a CD of .25 like the Prius. Plus, since it does not use a power split system, it offers one more hybrid design. I wonder what the CD of this Prius-killer will be? And will it offer a substandual increase in MPG over the Prius at about the same cost? I can hardly wait.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    And I wonder if Hyundai is also working on a mini van to compete with Toyota’s up and coming van.

  • usbseawolf2000

    The next few year will be very interesting! I like Hyundai Blue Drive much more than Honda IMA.

  • Yegor

    It is going to be tough for Hyundai for the first couple years – they kind of missed the Hybrid boat – they have no reliability record for Hybrids. It is going to be very hard to compete against Prius.

  • Samie

    Lets remember that the Insight helped bring down the price of the Prius. Also, any car that is around 20-24k with similar features or mpgs as the Prius will force Toyota to make improvements faster than what most expect. Toyota will decrease price, and/or improve mpgs, and/or move towards more electrification of the system. Long story short, if you love the Prius, don’t hate on the competition because Toyota will have to improve the Prius to keep people from jumping ship including those who are interested but yet have not been turned on to hybrid or electric vehicles.

    Is Hyundai-Kia Motors ready to be a big time player? Who knows but I like the diverse lineup of vehicles they are going to present in the next few years. Having a diverse lineup is key and the flexibility in production to adjust to consumer demands in weeks not months may mean Hyundai will overtake GM as one of the top leaders in the next ten years.

  • Shines

    Well I hope Hyundai comes out with a viable alternative to the Prius. Competition is always good. However they need to adjust their expectations – Prius-killer is not likely. You’d think the Sonata would have “killed” the Camry by now, but Toyota sets their standards pretty high. Prius has a pretty commanding lead. I don’t consider the Insight an equal alternative to the Prius. If this Hyundai is a closer match to the Prius in size, ride, quality and efficiency then it will be a success.

  • Pattaya Girls Blog

    wow it looks great, Hyundai’s design team are first class.

  • Mr. Fusion

    Prius killer. LOL.

  • JamesDavis

    Is this a joke, or is Hyundui serious? I like the design, but the front of the car looks like a deceptive smile.

  • Yegor

    1. Hyundai has no choice – it has to come up with mass produced high MPG car to be able to meet new high MPG fuel efficient standard that kick in 2012 (32 MPG for the fleet in 2012 if I remember it correctly).
    2. On the other hand there are couple of thing to improve on in Prius – a bad crash test rating (only 4 stars) and split in the middle rear view window.

  • Anonymous

    > Hyundai designers took the company’s “fluidic sculpture”
    > concept to the extreme on the Blue Will. A Hyundai
    > hybrid-only model would follow the same direction,
    > but toned down.

    Please, Hyundai, don’t tone the design down – it’s fantastic. It does not look like a copy of the prius (like the insight) or any other car – it has a very unique beautiful design.

    I was driving Hyundais for the past 12 years . Very reliable cars, never had a single problem. The current design is great. The Blue Will takes the design even further.

    I just recently traded my Hyundai for an Prius (for better mpg). Love the Prius – also good reliablility and of course good gas milage. But if the car as pictured above comes to the showroom, I might switch back to Hyundai (assuming they keep the good quality and low prices)

    But I would even wish more for a good looking hybrid station wagon from Hyundai.

  • Anonymous

    I also hate the front end of that car!

  • karkuus

    And how many Prius killers have been promised over the last decade?
    Add another one to the list. Face it, the Prius is here to stay.

    Sure it’s a nice car and might compete well, but why is everything promoted as a Prius Killer? The market is plenty big for all kinds of HEVs PHEVs and EVs to do well at that same time.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    I like what Hyundai is doing here. Now hopefully they won’t do what Honda did to their CR-Z where they went all half-@ssed on it regarding the sportiness and fuel economy. The design of this Hyundai is nice, but I’m sure it’s cutting edge looks will get watered down by the time it hits the market. I can only wish that we can get this with a high-5 or low-6 second 0-60, fuel economy that hovers in the mid-40’s even while thrashing it around and a price tag in the mid-$20k. I can dream can’t I?

  • RonBham

    Maybe they mean “Prius killer” in that more people who haven’t ever considered a hybrid might switch to one. Sure, I want to save the planet as much as the next guy, but I don’t want to drive a boring, really slow car either. At least the Sonata Hybrid oozes style and has more horses. AND gets better hwy mileage than city mileage when most Hybrids accomplish the reverse. I also have a 13 mile commute to work everyday with about half or so on the hwy so I may be a little biased. Too bad the Fusion looks so bland.

  • Hyundai

    Their upcoming plug-in hybrid car, which will compete against Toyota Prius will be launched as a part of Hybrid Blue Drive initiative. I’ve been a long time Hyundai fan and I’m really surprised how far the automaker has come in the last two decades.

    Best, Hyundai fan

  • Vicky Cierley

    Love the looks of this car.

  • Stanley Ross

    I was hoping this model would offer a plug-in option. I’ll be in the market to buy one next year(2012) and I’ve been a loyal Hyundai buyer since 2001. A lot of my friends have purchased Hyundai’s once they have seen how well my Hyundai’s have held up and whay they offer for the money. Looks like I might be going back to Toyota for the Prius plug-in.

    *On a side note, perhaps Hyundai should consider a smaller turbo-diesel hybrid. That would yield higher mpg and adequate power. I know a lot of people here in California would jump all over that. 🙂

  • Jeff

    This could easily be a Prius killer. It will have a GDI engine rather than conventional fuel injection giving better output and efficiency ratings. It will also use LG Chem’s lithium polymer batteries rather than the NiMH batteries of the Prius. The Blue Will drivetrain is a much more elegant design than the complicated one of the Prius. Replacing the torque converter with an electric motor is a stroke of genius. Hyundai also will provide a 6 speed transmission of some sort, whether the automated dual clutch or their conventional automatic rather than a CVT.

    The Sonata hybrid already beats the Camry hybrid on price, warranty, output and efficiency. Amazingly the Sonata 2.0T nearly matches the Camry hybrid’s highway fuel mileage but with nearly 100 extra horsepower and far more torque.

    A plug in hybrid would be very nice, but with all of the things going on at Hyundai, they can be forgiven for making us wait a little longer.

    Toyota had better come up with a plug in Prius at the time the Hyundai Blue Will is released. With vastly superior engine, transmission and battery technology, the Prius will otherwise be totally outclassed. The Camry currently is, and not just by the Sonata. The Fusion hybrid also outdoes the Camry in output and efficiency. Like the Sonata, the Fusion also has a direct injection engine.

    It is very likely Hyundai will put everything together before Toyota even masters direct injection technology. Perhaps Hyundai might give us a 1.2 liter twin scroll turbocharged GDI engine mated to a hybrid platform. That thing would eat the Prius for lunch. And Hyundai is completely capable of doing it. Toyota? Well, I’m not holding my breath even for a 6 speed automatic in their Yaris for the foreseeable future. Direct injection? They might do it in another decade.

  • AnneMarie

    Does anyone own the Sonata Hybrid? I just put a deposit down on one and should pick it up on Saturday. I drives great, is loaded out, has all the stuff, big and roomy, was registering over 40 MPG on the bar charts, as I cruised around town yesterday for about 2 hours… BUt it is the first year out…. I am worried I might end up with a headache…. Anyone?

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