Hyundai: Simple Improvements First
While the Toyota hybrid juggernaut marches on, and European automakers continue to lean on diesel to boost fuel economy, Hyundai is taking the simple low-cost route. Timothy White, senior manager of the powertrain department at Hyundai-Kia America’s Technical Center outside Ann Arbor, Mich., told Automotive News that it would meet new stricter fuel economy standards with incremental improvements. White said that improving powertrain efficiency and reducing weight would do the job for Hyundai. “There is really no home run out there,” he said.
The company has hybrids on sale in Korea now and has announced plans to add diesel engines to its SUV in America. But those are follow-up or back-up strategies to its more immediate lower cost options.
Hyundai will use improved aerodynamics, lighter weight materials, tires with lower rolling resistance and electric power steering to replace the traditional hydraulic system. The latter move alone could add 1 mpg to Hyundai models.
On the powertrain side, Hyundai will move to six-speed automatic transmissions, recently introduced on its Veracruz SUV. In addition, the company will move to direct injection gasoline engines, which promise a 3 to 6 percent boost in fuel economy.
While the company focuses on incremental improvements at its U.S. tech center, more dramatic changes are being tried in Korea. Hyundai has had hybrid models available to government fleets for the last couple years and said it would introduce a hybrid that combines liquid petroleum gas and electricity in 2009, followed by a more conventional gas-electric hybrid the following year. In 2005, Hyundai had announced that it would release a hybrid version of its subcompact Accent. Those plans have been indefinitely delayed. The company also continues to work on fuel cell cars as a longer-term solution.