I arrived on press day at the LA Auto Show just in time to see the dramatic unveiling of Hyundai’s 5-part strategy to hit the CAFE standards for fleet wide fuel efficiency (35 MPG) five years early — by 2015. Hyundai is the first auto manufacturer to announce a plan to arrive early at the higher fuel standard which is significant considering that its closest “green” competitor, Toyota, less than a year ago joined the Big Three to fight the 2020 CAFE Standards.  The new CAFE standards, set a minimum average fuel-efficiency of 35 MPG, the first increase in over 30 years!

So kudos to Hyundai.  While Toyota was allocating resources to delay the 2020 deadline, their Korean neighbors set about devising a way to beat the deadline by 5 years, making them #1 in fuel efficiency (they are currently ranked #3 after Toyota & Honda).  After a pretty spectacular intro involving giant projected blue leaves and blue-clad gymnasts, Vice President of Product Development, John Krafcik, emerged to lay out the 5-part strategy that will get them there:

1. First is the new concept car “HED-5 i Mode” which, aside from looking pretty cool — something like a Blade Runner version of the Prius — incorporates innovations in aerodynamics and high-end light weight materials as well as the new Blue drive train (see below).

2. A new GDI (gasoline direct injection) technology combined with turbo, which gives a 6-passenger crossover over 30 MPG by making its engine burn gasoline much more efficiently.

3. A partnership with CarbonFund to offset ALL emissions for each of its 2009 Genesis Sedans sold (an estimated 100,000 tons of CO2) through a model program in the Brazilian rainforest that combines both avoided deforestation and reforestation (a 2:1 ratio according to their press release). This project is the first to meet 2 very strict carbon offset standards — the CCBA (Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance) Standards and the Social Carbon methodology, which creates jobs and new income for local caretakers of the region.

4. A fully operational Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with an exceptional range of 185 miles and a maximum speed of 95 MPG. Hyundai joins 8 other manufacturers in a coast-to-coast tour of hydrogen vehicles.

5. Lastly, and perhaps most remarkably, a revolution in battery technology and a new drive train called Hybrid Blue Drive.  Hyundai partnered with LG Chem and will be the first auto manufacturer to use this high-efficiency battery.  How it works…In a typical Lithium Ion battery, a series of very bulky metal tubes are required to contain liquid electrolyte (like a big AA battery).  In the Lithium Polymer battery, a gel is used instead of a liquid, and so can be contained by aluminum pouches.

Performance has always been a problem for electric cars.  So this new battery is especially significant.  It is much smaller (175% smaller in size and weight) but it packs 2x energy density of a regular battery.  And it does so while generating very little heat (compared to the very hot Lithium Ion batteries that most hybrids have).  This gives the batteries a much longer life and better safety performance. 

Here’s a video highlight from the show:

Because of its simple architecture, high-power performance and low cost, Hyundai might prove to be correct in their claim to possess “…the best hybrid solution in the world.”

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