This year the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group will be selling as many hybrids and plug-in hybrids in the U.S. as king-of-hybrids Toyota, and what this might lead to remains to be seen.

Hyundai and Kia have said their goal is to become no less than the world’s second-biggest seller of electrified vehicles by 2020, with the assumption that Toyota will remain number one.

By the fourth quarter when the Ioniq plug-in hybrid is released, Hyundai and Kia combined will have eight hybrids and plug-in hybrids on offer – numerically matching Toyota, and excluding upscale Lexus – but sales is another matter.

2016 Prius Liftback. The other models of Toyota’s eight hybrids are: RAV4, Prime PHV, Camry, Prius c, Prius v, Avalon, Highlander. Its upscale Lexus division which normally is not cross-shopped with Hyundai/Kia has five more models.

Basically, Toyota crushes the hybrid segment, it’s also slowly branching toward plug-ins, and overall Hyundai and Kia do not hold a candle to its tremendous market advantage – but its product roster may begin to capture market share, or so Hyundai and Kia hope.

Hyundai is just now releasing its thrifty Ioniq Hybrid with the Plug-in due to follow, and Kia has also launched its hybrid Niro hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants.

Hyundai has already launched the second-generation Sonata Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata, and Kia likewise has its similarly positioned Optima hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

With revision of the 42 mpg Sonata Hybrid with unique automatic transmission, Hyundai released a plug-in version as well with 27 miles EV range. Kia’s Optima borrows the powertrain from both for its hybrid an plug-in versions.

Last year in the U.S., Hyundai sold about 23,000 of the two Sonata variants, and Kia sold 11,500 of its Optima Hybrid with the plug-in version coming to market this year – respectable, but not overwhelming.

By contrast, Toyota sold almost 114,000 of its Prius Liftback alone, over 45,000 of its RAV4 Hybrid, over 22,000 Camry Hybrids, over 20,000 Prius c models, almost 15,000 Prius v models, and its Prius Prime plug-in is coming online too.

Clearly Toyota dwarfs Hyundai and Kia but they are meanwhile posturing themselves on the assumption of further growth, and on paper, they have strong contenders to help do this and reinforcements are on the way.

The Ioniqs

Hyundai’s four hybrid models are the Ioniq Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid, Sonata Hybrid, and Sonata Plug-in Hybrid. For extra measure the Ioniq comes in a battery electric too. Kia’s four hybrids are the Niro Hybrid, Niro Plug-in Hybrid due this year, Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-in Hybrid. That’s eight for eight between Hyundai/Kia and Toyota.

Hyundai’s Ioniq – which also come in a battery electric version for which that Toyota does not have a corollary – was benchmarked against the Prius Liftback and Prime and beats it in a few ways. Arguably.

Hyundai has not said it will surpass Prius sales, but its 58 mpg Ioniq Blue hybrid, and 27-mile estimated range Ioniq PHEV hit Toyota in its chief bragging rights. Its Prius Liftback gets 52 or 56 mpg depending on trim, and its Prime PHV is rated 25 miles EV range.

Toyota has an enormous head start in establishing its quality, resale value, reputation for durability and reliability, so it is up to Hyundai to chip away where it can.

Styling also may help, as the Prius has caught flak for its design, whereas the Ioniqs – with conventional DCT automatic instead of CVT transmissions – are poised to win converts.


Kia has potentially as worthy a contender in its new Niro. With a plug-in version due, and available in three hybrid trims ranging from 43 mpg, 49 mpg and 50 mpg, this is excellent fuel economy with the extra added bonus of being a small crossover.

You may have heard crossovers and SUVs are trending in America and sedans are on the defensive.

Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid has rocketed to near the top of the hybrid sales chart this year.

Though only front wheel drive, and not AWD like Toyota’s second-ranked hybrid the RAV4, the Niro trounces it in fuel economy, and has good utility, styling and starts $7,000 less at $23,000.

Compared also to Toyota’s Prius c subcompact hatch and Prius v wagon which are yet to be refreshed, the Niro – and Hyundai Ioniqs mentioned – look like attractive alternatives to cross shop.

Just Getting Started

Hyundai and Kia plan 26 electrified vehicles including fuel cell varieties by 2020.

These 26 planned Hyundai and Kia vehicles will be comprised of at least a dozen hybrids, half a dozen plug-in hybrids, two EVs and two fuel cell vehicles.

As one can see, the Korean carmakers are being more adventurous in the plug-in market with four models to Toyota’s one as of 2017. Also, they even beat it to the FCV punch with its Tucson compared to Toyota’s Mirai – neither of which is selling many units at this stage.

On the global scale, even with an onslaught of competitive products, Hyundai and Kia will have their work cut out for them.

Last year Toyota sold 1.2 million hybrids worldwide. Hyundai sold 42,900 hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and Kia sold 18,735 hybrids.

Toyota’s Take

The Prius Prime now has 25 miles EV range, 54 mpg in hybrid mode, and prices start competitively midway within the Prius price range.

While Hyundai and Kia did not start selling hybrids until this decade, Toyota began in 1997 with the original Prius in Japan and just last week announced sale of its 10-millionth hybrid worldwide.

Environmental Communications Manager Jana Hartline says the carmaker has established no specific 2020 electrification goals like Hyundai and Kia have, but Toyota has “a deep commitment to vehicle electrification and to advancing drive-battery technology.”

This includes “conventional hybrid, pure electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles” – to readers who’ve poked Toyota for being reluctant to head to battery electrics, take note of its stated general intentions.

And, while not resting on its laurels, Hartline did mention laurels.

“Since the creation of hybrid synergy drive in the mid-nineties,” she said, “no one has done more for the electrification of the automobile than Toyota.”

But where will it go from here? The plan to cut CO2 emissions will be market by market based on “energy issues and infrastructure in each county/region.” Harltine says Toyota will account also for customer needs as it steadily introduces FCVs, EVs and other zero-emission vehicles in markets around the world.

The Camry Hybrid was revised in 2015 but its powertrain was developed in 2012. The 2018 Camry Hybrid promises to remedy that with Prius-like fuel economy.

“The accumulation of knowledge and experience related to hybrid technologies, will help Toyota hone its motorization (electrification) technologies,” Hartline said. “Also, on Dec. 1, 2016, TMC established the EV Business Planning Department to help further development of zero emission vehicles.”

Meanwhile Hyundai and Kia hope to rapidly accelerate, they have developed products that stand to compete well, and they have as many of them as Toyota for what that is worth at this stage.

Clearly Hyundai and Kia’s eight hybrids are more a measure of quantity over quality with regard to sales at this point, but this, says the Korean automaker, is just the beginning, so time will tell.