LOS ANGELES — The lively Kona Electric will begin trickling into dealerships soon with an estimated range of 258 miles on a charge, pushing it past the Chevrolet Bolt and lower trims of the Tesla Model 3 sedan and the much more expensive Model X crossover.
But don't call it a "Tesla fighter."
With the electrified Kona, Hyundai isn't trying to take on any particular brand. Rather, it's looking to upend the notion that families with electric vehicles need a gasoline-powered backup car.
"We wanted to have something that's very affordable and performs well, does what people expect and replaces a gasoline vehicle in the household — not be an additional vehicle in the household," Mike O'Brien, Hyundai Motor America's vice president of product, corporate and digital planning, told Automotive News during a press event here.
Automakers plan to roll out more than 60 electric and plug-in hybrid models in the U.S. through 2020. But for now, the Kona Electric, which begins arriving in stores this year in California before rolling out to other zero-emission focused states in the West and Northeast, will occupy its own niche in the market. The ample range is a key selling point, but its crossover layout will differentiate it from other battery EVs in its expected price range.
The Bolt and Nissan Leaf are compact cars, and O'Brien says consumers would have to drop a lot more cash on the upcoming Jaguar I-Pace or Model X if they want an electric utility vehicle, or opt for a plug-in hybrid. The Kona Electric's platform sibling, the Kia Niro EV, is due in the U.S. next year. Hyundai is also introducing a hydrogen-powered electric crossover in the U.S. this year.