Be afraid, be very afraid. Not everybody, just Japanese automakers. The Koreans, including Hyundai, Kia and CT&T, are coming, and they’re getting frighteningly good at what they do. Hyundai is trying to achieve an unprecedented 50-mpg average in its auto fleet by 2025, and cars like the electric BlueOn are what’s going to get it there.
If I’m not mistaken, this is the first highway-capable Korean electric car. Another sleeper company, CT&T, is not only building EVs already, but it is considering Hawaii, of all places, as the location for a production line that could churn out 10,000 cars a year. CT&T is also looking at Duncan, S.C., as a location for its odd little e-Zone low-speed car (photo right). Again, 10,000 a year is the goal. I’m not sure I understand Hawaii as a manufacturing center, unless the company is planning on shipping the finished product to Asia. And then why not just make them there?
But back to Hyundai and its BlueOn, which debuted this week in Seoul with the Korean president in attendance. Government officials are getting the first cars. This one’s a full-sized car with a 16.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-polymer battery pack. Korea has it’s own homegrown battery maker in LG Chem (which will make the packs for the Chevrolet Volt and the Hyundai Sonata hybrid), so that could be the supplier.
The BlueOn, based on the Korean-market i10, has an 87-mile range and takes six hours to charge from 220 volts. Quick charging from 480 volts (to 80 percent capacity) takes just 25 minutes. It simulates an engine sound, so pedestrians know it’s coming.
I was just invited to the California debut of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, another key tier in the company’s “Blue Drive” plan to get to 50 mpg. I’ve seen the Sonata at auto shows, and it will be an impressive contender, offering 37 mpg city and 39 highway. Also coming from Hyundai are some technologies to make conventional more fuel-efficient, such as turbocharging for small engines, direct fuel injection and so-called “lightweighting,” which is using high-strength, low-weight steel to make auto bodies.
Not coincidentally, I think the feds could require carmakers to achieve 50-mpg fleet averages by 2025, so Hyundai will be right on time. In fact, a coalition of green groups just called on the Obama administration to demand 60 mpg by 2025.
The interesting thing about Hyundai is that, like Toyota, it is starting to cover all the bases: Also coming from the company is a very high-end car called the Equus (priced at $50,000 to $60,000 and photo at left), an upmarket complement to the existing Genesis ($33,000 to $38,000).
Hyundai isn’t just throwing this thing on the market: The car will come with a high-level “valet service.” Say you’re a hedge fund manager and you can’t get away from the Greenwich estate to look at an Equus. They’ll bring one to you. If it needs servicing, they’ll make house calls, and leave you with a loaner car.