SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor Co. and affiliate Kia Motors Corp. have moved up their schedule for introducing hybrid cars to the United States. They now expect to do so by late next year, a Hyundai executive says.
"Probably in the second half of next year you will see some hybrid models for overseas, mainly the United States," says Lee Hyun Soon, senior executive vice president in charge of powertrains.
Hyundai had not expected to bring them to the United States until after 2007.
Hybrids use an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors to power the wheels.
The first hybrid models will be Hyundai's Accent and Kia's Rio. Both small cars were redesigned recently.
These are the same hybrid models the companies are producing for Korea. The company still is gearing up production and will produce only a few hundred this year, Lee says.
The introduction of larger hybrid vehicles won't be until "maybe in 2008 or the beginning of 2009," Lee says.
Hybrid exports to the United States will be in low numbers -- possibly a couple of thousand per year, Lee says.
"The number that we ship to the United States will be very few, to see the reaction," he says. "I don't think we can make a profit with hybrids in the United States."
Hyundai developed the hybrid technology itself. But the company is buying the batteries from Panasonic EV Energy Co., the Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co.-Toyota Motor Co. joint venture that supplies the batteries for the hot-selling Toyota Prius hybrid.
Hyundai sees little potential for hybrids in Europe. It is emphasizing diesel engines there instead. And it does not expect to sell hybrids in China, Lee says, because the focus there is still on low-cost basic transportation.
Hyundai also is investing heavily to develop fuel cells, which generate electricity from hydrogen.
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