Hyundai and affiliate Kia have advanced their schedule for introducing hybrid cars to the US. They now expect to do so by late next year, a Hyundai executive said.
“Probably in the second half of next year you will see some hybrid models for overseas, mainly the United States,” said Lee Hyun Soon, senior executive vice president in charge of powertrains.
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 said, because the focus there is still on low-cost basic transportation.
Previously Hyundai had not expected to bring hybrids to the US until after 2007.
The first hybrid models will be Hyundai’s Accent and Kia’s Rio. Both lower-medium 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 said.
The introduction of larger hybrid vehicles won’t be until “maybe in 2008 or the beginning of 2009,” Lee said.
Hybrid exports to the US will be in low numbers – possibly a couple thousand a year, Lee said.
“The number that we ship to the US will be very few, to see the reaction,” he said. “I don’t think we can make a profit with hybrids in the US.”
Hybrids use an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors to power the wheels.
Hyundai developed the hybrid technology itself. But the company is buying the batteries from Panasonic EV Energy Co., a joint venture by Toyota and Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. that supplies the batteries for the Toyota Prius hybrid.
Hyundai also is investing heavily to develop fuel cells, which generate electricity from hydrogen.