So maybe you know something of Hyundai’s story.
How an outfit that started out making steel slowly branched into also creating products rendered from the stuff; ships first, then cars.
How the first of the latter were licence-built Ford Cortinas, whose popularity funded and emboldened the brand to think it could design its own stuff.
How Ecuador became the first export market for the very first in-house effort, the Pony, on the strength of a deal to swap some cars for a shipload of bananas.
How Hyundai grew and inspired other Korean brands to follow their example; how it survived when those others faltered in times of economic crisis and scandal. How it grew even more, remained independent when those rivals were subsumed into foreign ownership.
How within four decades, it has developed from home market king to global powerhouse. Almost as powerful as Toyota and Volkswagen, an equal to Ford and General Motors, larger, better-heeled than anything else out of America, Europe and Japan and China.
Who does Korea's number one measure against? Depending on the product, it will cite many brands, from the humble to the high and mighty, but realistically there is one that has consistently been a barometer.
Toyota. Look at a Sonata and you see a Camry alternate. Likewise, for Corolla there the i30 and Elantra, for RAV4 the Tucson, for Highlander a Santa Fe. Sure, it's not wholly tit for tat. There’s no Hilux equal because Hyundai doesn't do Utes. And Genesis is not yet a match for Lexus.
Basically, though, whatever Toyota makes, Hyundai will generally have an equivalent. Sometimes an equal. When might it have a product that shows up the Japanese giant?
The day has come. The car is Ioniq, a five-seater hatchback roughly of the same dimension as Hyundai’s (Toyota Avensis-matching) i40. What makes Ioniq special is that it is a hybrid. Like a Prius. And a plug-in electric range extender car. Like a Prius PHEV. Oh, and also a fully electric car. Like a ... oh, hang on, Toyota has yet to do one of those.
So, yeah, if you haven’t figured, Ioniq is the world’s first car to be offered with three battery-involved powertrain options.
All are coming here; the wholly battery reliant flagship and the hybrid, which is more a petrol car with some modest electric assistance, are first off the rank. The plug-in electric, which intersperses in regard to EV driving ability, comes later in the year.
The shape and size of this car is enough to show what its main target is. Ioniq is a little larger than Prius, the battery-assisted technology pathfinder that has over four generations become the world’s hybrid kingpin, but even though it is also lower, more coupe-like for aero advantage, the styling similarities are obvious.
Prius is a tough competitor. It’s incredibly entrenched, with huge global recognition and high acceptance; in this market, public pick up of NZ-new stock has dwindled, but it sells well as a used import and increasing sales to taxi fleets has significantly raised its profile.
Any brand out to put this car on the back foot obviously had to engage in nothing less than fanatical effort. That’s the job of the hybrid and the PHEV; the latter has yet to be priced but the first is positioned to stir up interest, being within $1000 of the most popular new version of the Toyota.
The allure is mainly based on technology. While Hyundai NZ has yet to release local market economy and efficiency levels, overseas’ tests suggest the rivals are much of a muchness.
However, the Hyundai has capacity to make the Toyota look a little yesteryear in respect to technology.
Most tellingly, whereas all four generations of Prius have largely stuck with the same kind of nickel-hydride battery, the Hyundai has ramped up to more efficient lithium ion polymer batteries, akin to those only available in the Prius PHEV, though Hyundai’s are smaller, lighter and gruntier. Ioniq also gets ahead on its transmission type, it’s roomier.
On first acquaintance it seems to have a dynamic edge – though, in saying that, it’s no sports machine, with an emphasis on ride comfort over cornering ability.
But that’s typical of the type. Everything is optimised for efficiency. It drives well for the type of car it is, and seems impressively quiet, though the Queenstown roads we drove on could potentially be kinder in respect to tyre roar than the coarse chip more nationally prevalent.
Official tests suggest the hybrid has Toyota’s measure on economy, as well; assuredly, the PHEV will also be up to snuff against Toyota’s.
The hybrid is the one that gives least electrical oomph, of course. True to type, it basically only use pure battery urge for low-speed stuff, reversing into car parks and shuffling along in a traffic jam.
At faster pace, the petrol kicks in. Yet Hyundai claims up to 11kms’ low speed range on battery; Prius and Camry hybrid generally cop out after 2-5kms.
While the hybrid – which, incidentally, is placing, despite being better-equipped, within $1000 of Toyota’s most important version of the full-sized Prius - will likely be the volume seller, it’s the EV that will win headlines and also might well cause most pain to the market leader.
You’ll know of Government’s expectation of 64,000 electric vehicles being on the road by 2021. The target is 1000 units for the first year, 2016, was met, but conceivably the task requires sales to double every year from now on.
Government departments and several major corporates are already on board; both sectors are committing to up to 30 percent of their fleets being primarily battery-powered.
The challenge, to date, has been picking the right one; most brands in this sector are high-end premiums with expensive fare: It’s one thing for Air New Zealand to invest in BMW i3s, another for, say, the Justice Department. Realistically, until now, only the Mitsubishi Outlander petrol-electric PHEV has provided the right ‘look’.
However, the Ioniq EV could be a saviour. At $59,990 in base form, it’s surely the ‘reasonably priced’ electric we’ve all been waiting for – just $7000 more than the top-spec hybrid, the same money as the Mitsi and, best of all, around $20k cheaper than the only other battery-propelled cars on sale here, that i3 and the Renault Zoe.
Not bad given it’s larger, even less city-centric, more powerful and has a pretty good range: 200-220kms in ‘real world’ use.
Hyundai New Zealand is coy to speak about its sales expectations but comment from brand spokesmen at the media unveiling this week left no doubt that it is confident about being in the box seat for those lucrative contracts.
Seoul head office is also caught up in the excitement. It has made NZ a priority market for supply – a huge breakthrough given that Hyundai NZ in the past has seen sales ambitions for high-flying models quashed by production shortages.
This will also be a rare one-upsmanship over Toyota New Zealand, which pretty much ‘owns’ the fleet sector. But not with EVS because, remarkably, it doesn’t have one of these in issue.
TNZ’s closest battery-first opportunity is a used import Prius PHEV that – as a Japanese domestic model – lacks the all-important five star NCAP crash test credential that Government says is a must-have for any car it considers.
The pure electric Ioniq has no such issue. It won the maximum credential from Euro NCAP. The distributor is now working with ANCAP in the hope that the NZ-funded Melbourne operation will also provide the same result.
This is a car all of NZ will enjoy. While the plan was always to sell the hybrid from every Hyundai dealership, the distributor though the full electric – because it demands dedicated service areas and specially-trained technicians – might restrict to the just a handful. But no: It seems almost all want ‘in’ on this model.
Seems they also know a winner when they see one.
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