Hyundai Soft-Pedals 2012 "Prius-Killer" Plug-In Promise

hyundai soft pedals 2012 prius killer plug in promise

Ask the good folks from what today’s big news was, and they’d probably point to their own scoop, titled Hyundai Has Prius-Killer in the Works. It can be hard for blogs to get OEM reps on the phone, and Hyundai’s product public relations manager Miles Johnson walked an enticingly vague line:

We are studying a dedicated Prius-fighter vehicle, meaning a hybrid-specific nameplate that isn’t based off a Sonata or a Santa Fe. It’s its own thing. We’ve also been studying plug-in hybrid technology, which is a bit farther out for us, but the near-term would be a Prius-sized vehicle… You can look at the dimensions of the Blue Will concept and see it would be a similar package and size to a Prius.

With Hyundai launching its first US-market hybrid, the Sonata, later this year, this is yet another sign of the big H’s relentless momentum, right? Well, not exactly…

What Hybridcars (among other “green car” sites) missed is that their scoop wasn’t really a scoop at all. Last Summer, shortly after the Blue-Will plug-in concept (pictured above) debuted, Hyundai-Kia global R&D boss Yang Woong-chul proclaimed to Automotive News [sub]:

We want to be the leader in fuel economy and alternative fuels. We want to show our technology and improve our image, not necessarily make money on hybrids… We want to get people to drive our cars. We need to get people to the dealerships… We’re going after Prius and the Volt with the plug-in,

AN [sub]’s headline for that piece? Hyundai plans sporty plug-in for U.S. by ’12. The industry paper even listed technical specs for the Blue-Will concept, then posing as a 2012 plug-in “Prius-Killer,” noting:

The concept has a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and is 169.3 inches long. Hyundai says the Blue-Will will get an estimated 50 to 55 mpg in the hybrid-electric mode. It can travel about 38 miles in electric-only mode.

Unfortunately, reality was undaunted by Hyundai’s fearsome combination of specs on paper, a funky concept and a stated goal. Johnson explains that Chevy Volt school of green-car design (marketing, specs and desire for “green car leadership” at all costs first, actual design second) is like, really hard.

A hybrid vehicle usually takes double the time of a standard production car, and a plug-in even more than that. Think about how long GM has been spending on the Chevy Volt. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we’ve got some good partners with LG Chem on the batteries. We have a lot of engineers working quietly behind the scenes. We’re really moving as fast as we can.

Is there a better way to code-signal the frustrations of plug-in development than comparing your project to the Volt? No wonder Hyundai is now talking up a dedicated hybrid model while pushing the once-hyped plug-in into the future. Or, as puts itAlthough the date for the Blue Will plug-in hybrid could easily slip into 2013 or later, the implication is that a new Hyundai hybrid-only model could go into production in the next two years.In case you’re still keeping track, the first part of that sentence is where the actual news is. And by the time Hyundai’s non-plug-in “Prius Killer” arrives in 2012, a plug-in version of the Prius will likely be available, as will the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf and, if you believe the hype, EVs from countless other independents. Well-heeled early adopters, whipped into a frenzy by sites like, will have already generated the most profitable EV sales for other firms by the time Hyundai actually gets its 2013-and-counting plug-in to market.Ultimately though, backing away from a plug-in probably makes a lot of sense for Hyundai. Woong-chul’s “improve our image, not necessarily make money” line smacks of weak strategy, especially considering Hyundai managed to capture the EPA’s top spot for fleet fuel economy before it ever offered a hybrid for sale here. News from last week’s SAE Congress [via AN [sub]] that Hyundai-Kia will equip “most” of its vehicles with start-stop systems by 2012 (for a claimed 3 percent fleet-wide efficiency improvement) seems like a far batter use of the company’s resources than a rushed plug-in halo car.

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  • Rod Panhard Rod Panhard on Apr 21, 2010

    The advent of whale-influenced design keeps me up at night. For the handful of us heritage whalers (row like hell, harpoon like hell, hang on for the ride) and purveyors of artisanal whale-derived products, this could boost our business. Good times ahead!

  • Tricky Dicky Tricky Dicky on Apr 22, 2010

    Sorry - it's the fish-friendly Shark with the Aussie accent from Finding Nemo: "Hello, my name is Bruce...." Do Hyundai have any ideas of their own?

  • ToolGuy @Matt, let me throw this at you:Let's say I drive a typical ICE vehicle 15,000 miles/year at a typical 18 mpg (observed). Let's say fuel is $4.50/gallon and electricity cost for my EV will be one-third of my gasoline cost - so replacing the ICE with an EV would save me $2,500 per year. Let's say I keep my vehicles 8 years. That's $20,000 in fuel savings over the life of the vehicle.If the vehicles have equal capabilities and are otherwise comparable, a rational typical consumer should be willing to pay up to a $20,000 premium for the EV over the ICE. (More if they drive more.)TL;DR: Why do they cost more? Because they are worth it (potentially).
  • Inside Looking Out Why EBFlex dominates this EV discussion? Just because he is a Ford expert?
  • Marky S. Very nice article and photos. I am a HUGE Edsel fan. I have always been fascinated with the "Charlie Brown of Cars." Allow me to make a minor correction to add here: the Pacer line was the second-from-bottom rung Edsel, not the entry-level trim. That would be the Edsel Ranger for 1958. It had the widest array of body styles. The Ranger 2-door sedan (with a "B-pillar", not a pillarless hardtop), was priced at $2,484. So, the Ranger and Pacer both used the smaller Ford body. The next two upscale Edsel's were based on the Mercury body, are were: Corsair, and, top-line Citation. Although the 1959 style is my fav. I would love a '58 Edsel Pacer 4-door hardtop sedan!
  • Lou_BC Stupid to kill the 6ft box in the crewcab. That's the most common Canyon/Colorado trim I see. That kills the utility of a small truck. The extended cab was a poor seller so that makes sense. GM should have kept the diesel. It's a decent engine that mates well with the 6 speed. Fuel economy is impressive.
  • Lou_BC High end EV's are selling well. Car companies are taking advantage of that fact. I see quite a few $100k pickups in my travels so why is that ok but $100k EV's are bad? The cynical side of me sees car companies tack on 8k premiums to EV's around the time we see governments up EV credits. Coincidence? No fooking way.