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The Hyundai iBlue concept at last November’s Los Angeles Auto Show. (Hyundai)
The Hyundai iBlue concept at last November’s Los Angeles Auto Show. (Hyundai)

Strategy

Hyundai's ambitious green agenda Add to ...

John Krafcik is no longer willing or even interested in debating the science or the "truth" about climate change or global warming.

And it's not because the acting CEO of Hyundai North America is either shy of a fight or trying to avoid controversy and simply focus on selling cars in a weak market.

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No, better fuel economy and lower vehicle emissions are an "indisputable social good" and delivering clean cars is, therefore, good business with a growing and influential segment of the buying public. Many of them are the smart early adopters or 20- and 30-something professionals Hyundai - like all the other car companies - wants to capture as new buyers.

In an appeal at least partially crafted for them, Krafcik has been arguing that whether climate change is the result of human activity or sunspots or something else, there remains a "finite supply of oil, and the turmoil that our present consumption habit is fuelling in the Middle East …" makes it "abundantly clear that improved fuel economy makes sense for our industry and for our country," he said in a recent speech marked by its candour and its potentially controversial tone.

So Krafcik is talking the talk. Now we'll see if he and Hyundai can walk the walk. We won't have long to wait.

In five years or less, Krafcik and Hyundai will be revealed either as experts at working the spin cycle of the car sales game, or deadly serious players in the race to deliver clean vehicles that dramatically reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

That's Hyundai's own time frame. The South Korean company has said it will meet the U.S. and Canadian government-mandated fuel economy fleet average of 6.7 litres/100 km (35 miles per gallon) by 2010, five years ahead of the deadline.

"A bold position perhaps, but we were honestly surprised to be alone amongst all auto makers in taking a position like this one," Krafcik said at February's Chicago auto show. "Going forward, we'd love to have some company here."

Notice the swipe at Hyundai's competition? Hyundai, despite tough market conditions, is going on the offensive in an area where almost no one would have expected 12 months ago: the environment. At last November's Los Angeles auto show, Krafcik was there to unveil Hyundai's Blue Drive strategy.

The goal is for Hyundai to unseat Toyota as the most fuel-efficient car company in the United States and the world's recognized leader in gasoline-electric hybrids. Honda, with its own highly fuel-thrifty fleet, is also in Hyundai's crosshairs.

This is not a minor goal Hyundai has set for itself. No figures are available in Canada, but in the United States, Hyundai's fleet average is 28.6 mpg, slightly lower than Toyota's 29 mpg and Honda's 28.7, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Here's the Hyundai plan: The company will bring its first U.S.-market gasoline-electric full hybrid in the next-generation Sonata for October, 2010; a new crossover concept powered by a turbocharged gasoline direct-injection engine is coming, too; and future high-mileage editions of the Accent and Elantra will hit showrooms this year.

In fact, at the Geneva auto show in March, Hyundai announced that the production version of the HED-5 "i-Mode" crossover concept has been approved for the United States, though no introduction date has been set. The new crossover will likely have a production version of the concept's 2.0-litre Theta turbocharged gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder engine.

That powertrain should be capable of developing as much as 285 horsepower, yet have the fuel economy of a strong four-cylinder engine. The combination of direct-injection and turbocharging will appear in various Hyundai models in the future.

Meanwhile, the super fuel-efficient "Blue" editions of its Accent and Elantra models will be priced lower than other models for efficiency and economy. They will include low-rolling-resistance tires, enhanced aerodynamics, revised engine calibrations and reduced final drive ratios. The "Blue" cars are definitely coming to U.S. buyers and Hyundai Canada officials they are in deep discussions to bring them to Canadian dealerships, too.

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