Hyundai Introduces IONIQ Compact Car, Complete With Choice of Electric, Plug-in Hybrid, Hybrid Drivetrains

To date, South Korean automaker Hyundai has focused on offering electrified variants of existing internal combustion engine models as a way of meeting ever-higher average fuel economy targets and tough emissions targets. Even its first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle — the Hyundai Tucson FCV — is based on an internal combustion engine crossover SUV of the same name.

Earlier today however, Hyundai broke with that tradition by announcing its intent to unveil the IONIQ, a brand-new compact vehicle designed from the ground up to be its first custom-made alternative-fuelled car.

All we've got is this name badge -- and a teaser silhouette

All we’ve got is this name badge — and a teaser silhouette

In the automotive world, that’s hardly a first. The Nissan LEAF, Toyota Prius, and BMW i3 are all examples of electrified cars built by an automaker from the ground up to be fuelled by something other than a conventional internal combustion engine and conventional drivetrain.

But the Hyundai IONIQ, which will make its global debut at in January next year in South Korea and then put in appearances at the 2016 New York Auto Show and 2016 Geneva Motor Show, will be the first production vehicle from any automaker to be designed specifically to accommodate either hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric drivetrain.

When it launches, Hyundai says all three drivetrain options will be available for customers to choose. A conventional internal combustion engine without electrification won’t ever be offered.

“Hyundai Motor has a heritage of building innovative, fuel-efficient vehicles, so we are proud to advance our eco-friendly car line-up with the introduction of IONIQ. Our vision for future mobility focuses on choice, with a variety of powertrain options to suit customers’ varied lifestyles, without compromising on design or driving enjoyment,” said Woong-Chul Yang, head of Hyundai’s Research and Development Centre in Hyundai’s official press release. “IONIQ embodies Hyundai Motor’s vision to shift the automotive paradigm and future mobility; IONIQ is the fruit of our efforts to become the leader in the global green car market.”

Even a little photo enhancement tells us very little -- although we can see a little more of the shape.

Even a little photo enhancement tells us very little — although we can see a little more of the shape.

Built from the ground up as a completely new vehicle on a brand-new vehicular platform, the teaser shot of the IONIQ reminds us very much of the Elantra subcompact in its looks. It’s no surprise then that the next-generation Hyundai Elantra is expected to be built on the same brand-new platform as the IONIQ, opening the door to the possibility that perhaps it too could one day be offered with a variety of different drivetrain choices.

At the moment however, that last thought is pure conjecture on our part — but we can confidently note that the IONIQ EV will be a car which Hyundai hopes to take on the heavyweights of the all-electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid car world. Namely the Nissan LEAF electric car, the Chevrolet Volt range-extended plug-in hybrid EV, and the venerable Toyota Prius hybrid.

To do that, Hyundai says the IONIQ EV will be fitted with a “high-capacity, ultra-efficient” lithium-ion battery, while the plug-in hybrid version will offer fuel efficient gas mileage as well as all-electric capabilities. For now, it isn’t telling us what kind of range we can expect from the all-electric IONIQ EV or indeed how the IONIQ PHEV will operate.

To date, Hyundai has focused on hybrid, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell variants of existing models.

To date, Hyundai has focused on hybrid, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell variants of existing models.

Given it is developing an all-electric version of the IONIQ, Hyundai could be planning to give the IONIQ PHEV a gasoline range-extending engine to supplement the electric capabilities of the IONIQ EV without reducing motor power or performance, a design element which would make the IONIQ PHEV a direct competitor to the 2016 Chevrolet Volt.

The alternative would be to utilize a system similar to that used for its existing Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid, where a small electric motor supplements the gasoline engine for improved efficiency and limited (sub-20 mile) all-electric range around town. In order to truly compete against the Chevrolet Volt however, we’d suggest the former approach would be far more rewarding.

Noticeable in its absence is a hydrogen fuel cell variant of the IONIQ. For the past few years, Hyundai has been working hard to promote and develop hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, leasing and selling limited-numbers of its Hyundai Tucson FCV SUV in key market areas in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. For this particular model however, hydrogen seems to have taken a back seat.

That decision could be down to engineering challenges — namely fitting the big and bulky hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain and fuel tanks into a subcompact car — or due to the sheer costs currently associated with production of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

We’ll find out more in the next few weeks, but for now, we’re keen to know what you’d like Hyundai to include in the IONIQ in terms of features — and how much you’d be willing to pay for it?

Is CHAdeMO DC quick charging a must on the IONIQ EV? How about range? Or perhaps you’re more interested in hybrid fuel economy?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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