Despite Previous Dismissal of Electric Vehicles, Hyundai Promises All-Electric Sedan for 2016

Update: We’ve just heard from Hyundai with a quote on its future plans for zero-emissions vehicles which you’ll find at the end of this article. 

In the world of zero-emission vehicles, there have to date been two primary technologies fighting it out for supremacy: battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. So far  — with perhaps a few small ‘concept car’ exceptions — companies which aggressively champion battery electric vehicles steer clear of hydrogen fuel cell technologies and vice versa.

To date, Hyundai has shunned electric cars in favour of fuel cell vehicles. But is that about to change?

To date, Hyundai has shunned electric cars in favour of fuel cell vehicles. But is that about to change?

Yet South Korean automaker Hyundai, which has to date focused exclusively on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and openly dismissed electric vehicles, has recently confirmed it would be bringing a mid-sized all-electric sedan to market some time next year.

“Hyundai’s first pure EV will be a mid-sized sedan,” an official Hyundai spokesperson said. “Equipped with improved batteries, enhanced system management and lighter materials, the upcoming model will weigh about 30 percent less than existing hybrid EVs.”

Eventually, the lineup will include multiple plug-in models, the company said, including an all-electric SUV, an electric sports car and a small-sized electric sedan. Overall, the company hopes to offer twelve plug-in models in various markets by 2020. It currently makes just four, many of which are only available in select markets.

The change of heart at Hyundai came a week ahead of yesterday’s announcement of a $73 billion, four-year investment program from parent company Hyundai Motor Group into its 57 affiliate companies — which include Hyundai Motor Co. and sister company Kia Motors Corp. As well as funding the building of a new corporate headquarters, building new factories in Mexico and China, and expanding production capacity, the funds will include a $29 billion injection into research and development programs.

Hyundai's i30 FCV (Tucson FCV) has been the company's only zero emission vehicle to date.

Hyundai’s i30 FCV (Tucson FCV) has been the company’s only zero emission vehicle to date.

Much of that R&D budget is believed to be earmarked on building more ‘eco-friendly’ vehicles and expanding the firm’s autonomous driving program.

It’s worth noting of course, that while Hyundai has yet to produce its own electric vehicle, sister company Kia already makes and produces its Soul EV, a cute, compact urban runabout with an EPA-approved class-leading range of 93 miles per charge. Additionally, both Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered Tucson FCV SUV and its range of various hybrid cars also make use of the same types of battery packs and electric motors needed to make an electric car. In other words, Hyundai wouldn’t be starting from scratch.

Hyundai promises the yet unnamed electric sedan will launch some time next year, presumably as a 2017 model year car. But with batteries coming from one of the world’s leading battery manufacturers LG Chem, we’re hoping it will be able to enter the marketplace with enough klout to compete with more established electric automakers like Nissan and BMW.

Sister company Kia already produces the all-electric Soul EV, and Hyundai says it'll be joined next year by an all-electric Hyundai sedan.

Sister company Kia already produces the all-electric Soul EV, and Hyundai says it’ll be joined next year by an all-electric Hyundai sedan.

Hyundai is careful not to mention its hydrogen fuel cell program when talking about its unexpected plans to build a plug-in, but with incentives for hydrogen fuel cell cars now off the cards in the U.S. and a terribly immature hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, we can’t help but wonder: is Hyundai about to admit it backed the wrong zero-emission technology and switch sides?

Or is a wide, varied and adaptable portfolio the only sensible solution for a global automaker looking to sell as many cars as it can around the world?

Update: We’ve just heard from Hyundai USA with the following follow-up statement to our story: 

Hyundai remains fully committed and bullish on hydrogen fuel cell technology, and fully intends to retain leadership in this area moving forward. We believe it has the broadest, long-range potential to meet the greatest range of consumers with its refueling speed, superior range, and infinite vehicle scalability. However, we also realize that fuel cells are not the solution for every consumer. For these reasons, Hyundai is developing full range of alternatively-fueled vehicles to meet all consumer needs. Hyundai remains fully committed to its hydrogen fuel cell.

Thanks to Hyundai for reaching out to us on this story. 

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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  • CDspeed

    Hopefully they’ve realized that most homes and businesses are powered by electricity therefore it is easier to power an electric car, and has been for a long time. Plus the massive community of electric car owners, and advocates are also a group of consumers, who not only buy electric cars, we spread our enthusiasm to anyone who asks us about our cars. And seriously, do they really think building a car that still needs a multitrillion dollar infrastructure to be built, to make them accessible is a better idea over EVs that uses an existing infrastructure?

    • MEroller

      I rather think, as Nikki already alluded, that the big global car manufacturers are forced to follow just about every conceivable propulsion avenue in order to be ready for whatever scenario wherever. Ths US just dropped their H2 fuel cell incentives, but they may even, at some point, ban new plugin cars if they percieve those are detrimental to whatever. Thus the only chance for survival that global manufacturers have in the long run is to be able to react in a timely manner to new scenarios by being able to open a drawer with the production ready, most appropriate solution and have it marketable in as short a time frame as possible.nHowever, this parallel development is immensly expensive and puts great strain on human and testing resources, which reduces short-term profitability.nVW started this process around 5 or 6 years ago and is now slowly beginning to reap the benefits of many years of sweat, blood and tears (ask me how I know…) with their very consequent and versatile platform strategy

  • Eric Rabuse

    Nikki, great stuff

  • Erocker

    I think that Hyundai is facing up to the fact that the hydrogen car is not the panacea that they have been trying to get everybody to believe.