You can find fans of anything on the internet, but for the most part, people don’t get excited about practical things like toasters, economy cars or socks. The fancy-argyle-sock craze of 2014 was likely a low point in human history.
I can’t remember the last time I was excited about the launch of a new Hyundai or, for that matter, any crossover SUV. Chalk it up to the fact that the primary job of most new vehicles is not to be exciting; their job is to be a reliable appliance with low lease payments and spacious seats. A funny commercial always helps too.
Like a Hollywood blockbuster, mass-market cars are meant to appeal to as many people as possible. It’s a financial imperative in an industry that relies on economies of scale. New cars are focus-grouped to death like an Avengers film. As a result, most new vehicles of any sort tend to be quite similar and – how to put this? – in a word, forgettable.
The same is, unfortunately, true of most new mass-market electric vehicles, the ones that don’t accelerate like a Lamborghini and/or have a price tag bordering on six-figures.
To the average new-car shopper, most mass-market EVs look and function like gas-powered cars but cost significantly more. (In many cases, EVs are simply gas-powered cars with their engines removed and replaced with batteries.) Sure, EVs cost less to run, but you’re not going to win over a huge new wave of customers with that pitch.
Then last week, Hyundai went and launched something called the Ioniq 5, an all-electric mid-size SUV that could have easily been yet another unremarkable electric appliance, but is instead – somehow – cool.
News of the Ioniq 5 almost passed me by, which I’m sure it did to many of you. The car’s unveiling was accompanied by a serious video full of celebrities and influencers talking about positive energy and changing the world – the usual. The car did looked interesting, but I assumed anything that looks this good is surely just a concept.
Nope, this is the finished production car, and we’ll see it in Canadian showrooms late this year. How much you can expect to pay is a crucial piece of information that hasn’t been divulged yet, but since a) it’s a Hyundai and b) it’s a mid-size SUV, it should be relatively affordable, at least by the skewed standards of electric cars.
The car is all origami surfaces and square headlights, and its turbine wheels are worthy of the chef’s-kiss emoji. It’s like a prop from an alternate non-dystopian Blade Runner universe. The Ioniq 5 is modestly sized, but the cabin is enormous since Hyundai’s designers took full advantage of the fact they didn’t need to make space for a bulky combustion engine. The interior is clever, too, with a movable centre console and La-Z-Boy style reclining seats, complete with leg rests. The car can also be used like a mobile electrical outlet, powering, say, an electric toaster or your PlayStation 5 to make camping a little more luxurious. It makes other mass-market EVs look ugly or boring or predictable – or all three.
This avant-garde little Hyundai was a reminder of the glaring problem with so many electric vehicles, and vehicles in general – they’re a bit dull.
Clearly the car-buying masses aren’t sold on electric vehicles yet, as evidenced by the fact EVs still only make up a few percentage points of the overall Canadian new-vehicle market, according to the latest Statistics Canada data.
The world’s major automakers are finally taking EVs seriously. There’s a new president in the White House, and Europe and Asia have set ambitious targets to reduce vehicle emissions. Virtually every car company has recently announced big investments in electrification along with new product strategies. They’re finally thinking beyond the crummy low-range half-baked “compliance” cars, those early EVs – like the electric Ford Focus and Fiat 500e – built only to satisfy regulators and make way for business as usual.
If mass-market EVs can’t be the cheapest new-vehicle option, they’re going to need to be something their gas-powered counterparts are not. They’ll need to be more spacious or interesting or desirable or offer new experiences – as this Hyundai does – beyond just a quiet ride.
Desirability is what Tesla has done so well. Whether people are truly excited by the cars or by the prospect of getting rich betting on Tesla stock, at least the company built some buzz. People have to want EVs to splash out the extra cash.
Sure, Ioniq 5 is a goofy name that sounds like it could be a boy band, but who cares when the rest of the car looks so good. By some miracle, it didn’t get focus-grouped to death. Pre-orders for the car in Korea and Europe are reportedly sky-high. I’m assuming this success is not (only) because the massive K-pop band BTS was part of the car’s launch but because I’m not alone in thinking the Ioniq 5 is a rare thing – a cool new electric car that’s not crazy expensive. I’ve never said this before, but I can’t wait for the new Hyundai.