Toyota bet on hybrids like the Prius. Nissan bet on electric vehicles like the Leaf. And General Motors bet, initially at least, on plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt.
Hyundai Motor Co., it seems, is betting on everything.
Between the 2016 and 2018 model years, Hyundai and Kia will launch four hybrids, two plug-in hybrids and an electric car in the U.S., according to sources familiar with the Korean brands' product plans. The sibling brands will launch their first dedicated hybrids as 2017 models, with each sporting a unique, aerodynamic body style.
"They're doing hybrids, they're doing PHEVs, they're doing pure battery electrics," said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at automotive consultancy AutoPacific and a former product planner at Hyundai. "They're basically throwing darts at the wall, preparing for the future by having expertise in all of these types of vehicles."
On top of that, Hyundai is leasing a hydrogen-fueled version of its Tucson crossover and has examined bringing a diesel engine to the U.S., further preparing the Korean automaker to seize on any shift away from gasoline.
"We will take the lead in the future by raising the competitiveness of our environment-friendly cars," Reuters quoted Hyundai Motor CEO Choong-ho Kim as saying last year at an event in South Korea.
The dedicated hybrids are expected to ride on a modified version of the compact-car platform that underpins the next-generation Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte and draw power from a direct-injected 1.6-liter gasoline engine paired with an electric motor.
Spy shots of the Kia in testing show a hatchback with design influences from a crossover, such as thick plastic wheel arches and blacked-out wheels. Spy shots of the Hyundai suggest it will be an aerodynamic liftback sedan like the Chevrolet Volt.
"They're going to great lengths to provide differentiation in design," Kim said.
Hyundai's new hybrid platform was designed for all-electric variants. Hyundai, which doesn't currently sell an EV, will add one for the 2017 model year. Kia, which currently offers an EV based on its Soul subcompact, isn't expected to offer a second.
Hyundai has encouraged its dealers to invest in charging stations for the new EV and plug-in hybrids, said Adam Kraushaar, president of Lester Glenn Hyundai in Toms River, N.J. The automaker also signaled that the EV rollout will be confined to states such as California that mandate sales of zero-emission vehicles.
"The reality is with gas just above $2 a gallon here, a hybrid is less relevant," Kraushaar said. "But gas prices aren't going to stay down there. When they come back up and people start looking for hybrids again, it'll be very nice to be able to give buyers an option besides just the Prius."