According to John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, the Korean automaker’s future rides on the success or failure of its new Blue Drive technology.
Blue Drive technology broadly encompasses all of Hyundai’s efforts to improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions across their entire model lineup. At the heart of Hyundai’s current efforts, is the development of a new lithium polymer battery cell which is scheduled to make its debut in U.S. dealer showrooms in October of 2010.
Krafcik says that Hyundai is, "aligning our global R&D resources in Michigan, California, Nam Yang and Frankfurt to develop the Blue Drive technologies we need to achieve our goal, a 35 mpg U.S. fleet average by 2015."
Hyundai’s new lithium polymer (Li-poly) battery cell battery has been described as looking like "a large flattened Pop Tart still in its bag.’ Developed in partnership with LC Chem, the Li-poly batteries provide double the energy density and 175% the volumetric energy efficiency of nickel metal halide batteries currently being used by most hybrid auto makers. German automaker Daimler is currently offering wet cell lithium ion (Li) batteries in its new S400 Hybrid as will GM’s Chevy Volt. Hyundai, however, claims that its lithium polymer batteries are lighter and easier to package than wet cell technology. According to Hyundai, Li-poly gel battery cells are also safer, easier to cool and more shock resistant.
From a design perspective, the Li-poly batteries gel consistency means that they can be shaped to accommodate other design elements. This will provide designers and engineers greater flexibility and more options for battery placement.
Hyundai is admittedly playing catch up with Toyota and Honda who have established a firm foothold on Hybrid markets worldwide. Toyota and Honda are currently ranked number 1 and number 2 respectively in fuel economies for their fleets. Ford Motor Company has also made great strides in hybrid development and will aggressively pursue its share of the market with the launch of its 2010 Fusion hybrid model.
Hyundai’s goal is to produce vehicles that are more affordable, more fuel efficient and more fun to drive than the competition’s autos. To that end, Hyundai’s Blue Drive hybrid line will utilize lighter materials and fewer components than systems already in production from their competitors.
Hyundai plans to debut its new Blue Drive Li-poly battery in its redesigned Sonata in October of 2010. Other plans include a new turbocharged, direct injection, gas-powered crossover vehicle and redesigns of its popular Elantra and Accent. In a true David vs. Goliath move, the Korean automaker has also announced that it is developing a large luxury model it call the Equus to compete head-on with the Lexus SL 460. No release dates have been announced yet.
Hyundai’s reemergence as a viable concern and contender for the hybrid crown is nothing short of astonishing. Less than a decade ago the South Korean automaker was in financial crisis, and its brand seemed in danger of going the way of the ill-fated Yugo.
Today, employing the world-renowned Toyota product development and production methods along with innovative technologies, Hyundai appears poised to give its competition a run for their money.
However, the company still has its share of critics who question its ability to execute the aggressive plans. Auto specialist Kim Jae Woo, a fund manager for Orbis Investment, sums up the concerns when he says, "Achieving a successful test and delivering a commercial success are two different things." Woo warns, "With Hyundai trying to address technical challenges on all fronts, its resources will be thinly distributed."
Adding fuel to the flames of criticism is the just-released J.D. Power & Associates APEAL (Automotive Performance Execution and Layout) study, which ranked Hyundai below average in its industry-wide survey of new car owners.
Hyundai, however, has overcome its share of controversy and proved the critics wrong in the past. With automakers pursuing such divergent paths in their quests to capture the hybrid market, many feel that Hyundai has as good a chance of succeeding as any of their competitors.