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."

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