SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor Co. aims to beat the Toyota Prius at its own game with the new Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, the Korean brand's first dedicated hybrid.
The Ioniq not only targets Prius-like fuel economy, it edges the world's best-selling hybrid on power, performance and size. Its styling is also arguably less polarizing.
The Ioniq's modest sales target of 77,000 a year globally shows that Hyundai grasps the challenge ahead in taking on a car almost synonymous with hybrid driving.
In contrast, the fourth-generation Prius has booked 100,000 orders in Japan alone since going on sale there in December.
Even if the Ioniq doesn't come close to the Prius' volume, though, the new nameplate plays an equally important role for its brand.
For starters, it kicks off a bold electrification push for Hyundai and its sibling brand, Kia. The Ioniq's hybrid technology is the same that underpins the Kia Niro hybrid crossover and forms the basis for a blitz of other upcoming hybrids and plug-ins.
Hyundai plans to introduce 22 eco-friendly models by 2020.
It also bolsters another important strategy for Hyundai: the birth of its Genesis luxury brand. With Genesis' lineup of big and powerful engines, exemplified by the G90's 5.0-liter V-8, Hyundai needs more green cars to meet corporate average fuel economy rules.
The new hybrid offerings should also improve Hyundai's reputation as a laggard in electrified drivetrain technology, said Andy Bae, IHS Automotive's senior analyst for Korea.
In some ways, the Ioniq matches or even exceeds the Prius.
It starts with the car's superslick aerodynamic hatchback silhouette. Unlike the Prius, which pushes the styling envelope with jagged angles and bold tail fins, the Ioniq cleaves closer to conventional. Hyundai executives take pains to emphasize the car does not look like a hybrid.
That styling may cast a wider net of potential customers.