Hyundai Says to Expect Electric Car Soon, Likely a Plug-in Sonata

By · January 17, 2011

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid looks poised to become the company's first mass-market plug-in vehicle.

Although Hyundai's recent strategy has been more focused on making the highest mileage non-plug-in vehicles they can—from the 2011 Sonata Hybrid to an upcoming Hyundai "Prius-killer"—that doesn't mean electric cars are out for the brand. In fact, according to Mike O'Brien, Hyundai's Head of Product Planning, we can expect an announcement very soon regarding the introduction of Hyundai's first mass-market plug-in vehicle.

"Our technology development in hybrids was specifically to address the issue of future plug-in deployment," O'Brien said to on the sidelines of the Detroit Auto Show last week. "Other manufacturers' hybrid systems were developed in such a way to not allow them to easily develop plug-in hybrids. For the Sonata Hybrid to become a plug-in hybrid, really all we need are bigger batteries—the basic technology platform is already designed to support a plug-in variation."

According to O'Brien, the reason Hyundai has been late to the plug-in game isn't so much for a lack of technology, but because of market strategy. "Like other manufacturers we have an active EV program with demonstration vehicles in service in Seoul, South Korea, and there will be more elsewhere," he said. "We have a lot of active R&D work going on in plug-ins, the question is value in terms of timing of release. We want our product to be worthy on its own merit independent of incentives."

"Critically speaking for us, we have intended to front load more of our advanced R&D efforts in the industry on things that we can bring to market in the future and we have spent a lot of our budget on advanced technology development," said O'Brien in explaining why there hasn't been as much focus on bring plug-ins to market immediately. "But in terms of overall balance, we tilted our balance to what we could do as soon as possible to gain a competitive advantage. Basically we pushed our brand our in the direction of core model fuel economy."

But it appears Hyundai's plug-in silence is poised to come to an imminent end given that O'Brien tossed out this carrot, saying "Look for something very soon, potentially one of the upcoming auto shows in the next six months to a year."


· · 7 years ago

This is good news: the more the merrier, from my perspective.

While I have no interest in hybrids, if Hyundai does come out with a pure EV someday, it will add to the marketplace competition.

· George Parrott (not verified) · 7 years ago

Very interesting promise. I am most impressed with the design development from Hyundai/Kia. A plug-in Sonata would be a most appealing package, IMHO.

Thanks for the update on this development !


· · 7 years ago

@ George,
Agreed... a really appealing package. Hyundai is on a roll with customer satisfaction, great reviews for the Sonata, etc, and if they have really thought out the future possibilities (as stated), then the integration of batteries could be more effective than in (for example) the Focus. The basic Sonata is smack dab in the middle of what the greatest number of people like in a car, and offers direct competition to the Accord and Camry. If a PHEV version had 30 - 40 mile range, we could have a vehicle that could quickly get up to the 200,000 - 300,000 units-per-year range.

What's not to like? 12,000-15,000 miles per year on electricity is very appealing to a very wide range of people. Bob Lutz was right, at least regarding the Volt owners I've met: they worry more about how they are going to use up the gas before it goes stale than they do about "range".

I had a conversation recently with a conservative, middle-aged Jeep driver... not an early adopter in any way. But he came away really enthusiatic about the Volt, and especially the idea of leasing one. He'd love a PHEV Sonata.


· · 7 years ago

A key to a Prius killer is basic engine efficiency. There are so few losses in the electrics that the bulk of the difference between the Volt and the Prius (gas only) MPG figures relates mainly to engine design, and secondarily to aerodynamics (which are about 20% better in the Prius.) Although it seems likely that Chevy will address these issues, if Hyundai has a Prius killer that can be easily converted to a PHEV, they could be on the market with their highly-efficient vehicle before Chevy can react with a second generation Volt.

Looks like we will soon have a wide range of interesting plug-in cars.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.