Despite Lack of Publicity, Hyundai’s New EV Goes on Sale in Weeks

By · November 03, 2016

Hyundai Ioniq

Hyundai announced this week that a souped-up version of its upcoming new Ioniq eco-car hit 160.7 miles per hour at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. That was good enough to earn a land-speed record for a “production-based” hybrid vehicle. Given all the performance-enhancing modifications to the record-setting Ioniq (including nitrous oxide injection)—and the odd category of fastest hybrid based upon, but not actually a production model—the speed record was obviously a publicity stunt meant to raise awareness that the Ioniq exists at all. Nonetheless, Hyundai is right to call attention to the Ioniq, which has mostly escaped notice. It deserves recognition as the first ever model to be offered as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure electric car.

The all-electric and hybrid versions of the Ioniq will go on sale in late 2016, followed by the plug-in hybrid in mid-2017. We don’t have pricing info yet, but in the UK, where the EV is already on sale, it’s going for about the equivalent of $31,000.

Hyundai estimates the Ioniq EV will offer a driving range of about 110 miles via a 28 kilowatt-hour battery—not quite as big as the pack offered in the new Nissan LEAF. The LEAF has a driving range of 107 miles, so either the Ioniq will fall short of 110 miles in real-world driving—or its lightweight aluminum hood and tailgate (and other weight-shaving strategies) and its extremely slippery aerodynamics is helping it achieve greater efficiency. The Ioniq is expected to be rated at an estimated 125 MPGe, falling a few miles short of the ultra-efficient BMW i3.

Comparisons to other all-electric cars might be missing the point of the Ioniq. Hyundai executives have been open about borrowing a page from Toyota’s playbook—and how they are emulating the Prius. In other words, the first step is to establish a standalone dedicated model that embodies the company’s green aspirations. “Toyota started with the Prius and has expanded that range,” said Tony Whitehorn, Hyundai’s UK chief, in an interview with Autocar. Notably, Whitehorn said that Hyundai plans to introduce 28 so-called low-emissions vehicles by 2020. We’re guessing that at least a few of those will come with a plug and big battery pack.

Hyundai Ioniq

Hyundai’s game plan is to start with a lightweight versatile aerodynamic base model—and then give consumers the choice of how much electrification they want. “Our vision for future mobility focuses on choice, with a variety of powertrain options to suit customers’ varied lifestyles, without compromising on design or driving enjoyment,” said Woong-Chul Yang, who leads Hyundai’s research and development center.

In terms of driving enjoyment, Top Gear—not exactly a fan of everyday efficient driving—was fairly kind, when they recently got behind the wheel of the hybrid and EV Ioniqs. “It’s quite good. The ride is pretty fluent and the steering precise and well-weighted if numb,” its reviewer opined. He said the hybrid’s ride is supple and the EV’s acceleration to 50 mph is even quicker. Of course, Top Gear doesn’t like that the “floaty” suspension or the “gluey” steering is not on par with the sports car they favor. Fair enough.

But these criticisms don’t negate Hyundai’s thoughtful strategy. By all appearances, it seems that Hyundai’s relatively slow pace of plug-in car development might have given the Korean automaker a chance to learn lessons to use in a long-term diversified game plan (which also includes fuel-cell cars). Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Unfortunately, there’s an Achilles heel, at least in the short run. And it’s the same one that plagues EV-averse Toyota, which Hyundai references as a role model. The Ioniq EV’s driving range is 110 miles. That would have been remarkable in 2010, 2011 or 2012. But the imminent Chevy Bolt, which is in the same price range as the Ioniq, was recently rated at 238 miles of driving range on a single charge. A similar affordable long-distance EV is coming soon from Tesla.

So while we can applaud the introduction of the Ioniq EV in a few weeks, and a plug-in hybrid version in 2017, long driving range is the name of the game these days. At 110 miles, and with minimal publicity in the weeks preceding its introduction, the all-electric Ioniq will likely remain in the shadows of the plug-in market and sell in very low numbers for some time.

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