Hyundai Motors announced that it will begin mass producing hybrid cars in 2009. The first step under the new initiative will be production of the Avante, a sedan hybrid that will run on a combination of propane and electricity. The Avante is sold as the Elantra worldwide. According to the Korea Times, Hyundai plans to release this new hybrid in the latter half of 2009. Then the motor company will expand its hybrid lineup to include sedans such as the Sonata by 2010. At this stage, it’s unclear if and when Hyundai will release these hybrids into North American markets.

“The importance of developing futuristic, environmentally-friendly cars is increasing for sustainable growth,” said Chung Mong Koo, chairman of Hyundai. “Therefore, technology for advanced cars, like the hybrid, is imperative.”

To date, Hyundai has produced approximately 2,800 small hybrids for various government demonstration projects in South Korea. In 2004 and 2005, the company announced plans to invest nearly $1 billion in its hybrid program, with the goal of producing 10,000 hybrids per year by 2009, including a hybrid version of the Hyundai Accent. Those plans were delayed in 2006, when the company faced a series of corporate scandals which landed its chairman in jail.

The latest announcement suggests that Hyundai is ready to resume its hybrid plans—although the decision to use propane as a fuel source indicates that the Avante will initially be targeted to fleets. More than three million vehicles worldwide operate on propane, mostly for municipal and corporate fleet use in Australia, Canada, Holland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and Korea.