LOS ANGELES -- Delivery to dealerships of most of Hyundai’s initial Sonata Hybrids has been delayed until at least late March because the brand is altering the car’s device that emits an artificial engine noise at low speeds.
Hyundai planned to have the car available in January, but only a small number of the vehicles are in dealer stock, Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor said. Trainor declined to say how many Sonata Hybrids have arrived in the United States, but said about 700 units are in port or at sea.
Dealers can expect cars to trickle into dealerships before becoming more widely available in late March or early April, Trainor said.
The delay comes after Hyundai decided late last year to change the car’s “virtual engine sound system.”
The system mimics the sound of an idling gasoline engine to alert nearby pedestrians of the car’s presence when driving at low speeds. Concerns about the safety of pedestrians being unable to hear hybrids, which are nearly silent when moving at low speeds, prompted U.S. lawmakers to pass a law in January requiring automakers to install sound-emitting devices.
Under the law signed by President Obama on Jan. 4, all hybrids will be required to have such devices in a few years.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is writing the rule to enforce the new law.
Hyundai had planned to have a button on the Sonata Hybrid’s instrument panel to turn the virtual engine sound system on and off, Trainor said. But late last year, after hearing that NHTSA was considering banning such switches, Hyundai decided not to install the button.
“We were hearing that at some point NHTSA would not allow [the noise device] to be turned off,” Trainor said. “We said, ‘why put this thing out there now and have to redo it in a few months?’”