Hyundai is now in the gasoline-electric hybrid business.
Coming soon to dealerships at an as-yet unnamed price is the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid mid-size sedan. It mates a 2.4-litre engine running on an Atkinson cycle to a 30-kilowatt permanent-magnet motor. The transmission is a six-speed automatic, rather than the commonly used continuously variable transmission in competing models such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.
The six-speed gives the Hyundai hybrid something more of the regular feel of a mainstream sedan without the electric motor and batteries. Hyundai's innovation is an electric traction motor hard-coupled to the input of the transmission. Drivers can choose performance or economy mode.
The heart of it all is a 43-kilogram lithium polymer battery pack developed with LG Chem. This pack is lighter, smaller and more efficient than the nickel-metal hydride batteries currently used in other hybrids, says Hyundai, adding that the 72-cell pack is more durable and stable than ones using lithium ion cells. Hyundai says the battery pack can last for nearly 500,000 kilometres worth of rechargings with only a 10 per cent loss of performance.
Hyundai Canada would like to price the Sonata Hybrid for less than $30,000, but that will be tough given the lithium pack is 15 to 20 per cent more expensive than nickel-metal hydride units.
Performance? Hyundai says the Sonata Hybrid accelerates to 100 km/h in 9.2 seconds. That makes it quicker than the Fusion and Camry hybrids. With a combined output of 206 horsepower, Hyundai's hybrid is more powerful than the Camry Hybrid (187 hp), Nissan Altima Hybrid (198 hp) and Fusion Hybrid (191 hp).
As for fuel economy, the Sonata Hybrid at 5.6 litres/100 km in the city bests the Camry and Altima Hybrids, but trails the Fusion, which is rated at 4.6 litres/100 km. The Sonata Hybrid's highway fuel economy of 5.4 litres/100 km is equal to the Fusion's best-in-class rating.
Hyundai does not expect to sell many Sonata Hybrids; the hybrid market in Canada accounts for less than one per cent of total industry sales. But as a showcase for Hyundai's engineering prowess, this car has value that far exceeds simple revenue and profit numbers.
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