2008 LA Auto Show: Hyundai sings the Blues

Consumer Reports News: November 20, 2008 06:54 PM

Most major manufacturers who held press conferences used the LA Auto Show to tout their green agendas. Hyundai came out swinging at its press conference, announcing they have a few near-future technologies up their sleeve.

"Hyundai aims to be the most fuel-efficient automaker on the planet," said Hyundai Motor America vice president, Product Development and Strategic Planning, John Krafcik.

That is no small goal, and one that Honda won't make easy to accomplish. (See the Honda Insight concept for proof.)

Krafcik continued, saying, "We're 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." This is five years ahead of current federal mandates.

They are so green, they are blue
Hyundai used the LA show to launch its Blue Drive initiative—a technology-fueled effort to bolster mileage across its product range. The fired-up company will do this through separate strategies, including direct-injection gasoline engines, full hybrid powertrains, six-speed transmissions, and eventually fuel cells.

Shortly, Hyundai will offer Blue editions of the Accent and Elantra focused on bang for the mpg buck. These are conceived as low-cost models with fuel economy gains from low-rolling-resistance tires, enhanced aerodynamics, revised engine calibrations, and reduced final drive ratios.

The HED-5 i-Mode crossover concept on display showcased the Theta Turbo GDI. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine uses direct-injection to improve fuel efficiency, while applying a turbocharger to boost power output. The result is 286 horsepower, reportedly produced with less fuel than a comparable V6 would require.

The next-generation Sonata will be offered as a full hybrid in 2010. The hybrid drive system combines a 2.4-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission with a 30kW electric motor. The kicker is that while some manufacturers are focused on lithium-ion batteries as the step beyond current nickel-metal-hydride batteries, Hyundai is leaping to lithium polymer.

Hyundai explains: "Compared with nickel-metal hydride batteries, lithium-polymer batteries deliver the same power with 30 percent less weight, 50 percent less volume and 10 percent greater efficiency over the nickel-metal hydride batteries found in all of today's hybrids."

Lithium ion uses a liquid electrolyte, which is commonly sealed in a battery cell a little larger than a AA battery. Hundreds of these batteries are combined in packs. On the other hand, lithium polymer is a gel, and it can be stored in large quanities, avoiding the need for expensive cells. As a result, lithium polymer promises greater packaging flexibility and lower production costs.

Hyundai has developed their next-generation battery packs to have maintenance-free operation for at least 10 years and 150,000 miles.

Next up is a fuel-cell vehicle. Hyundai plans to begin series production on an FCV in 2012.

Hyundai has cast aside an old reputation for poor quality with its impressive current line up. Similarly, the company appears poised to cast aside its legacy of modest fuel economy. In fact, I spent some time in our four-cylinder Sonata last week and observed better fuel economy than a compact sedan I had just transitioned out of. (More on that in a future report.)

Whatever color you wish to assign it, Hyundai is a company to watch.

Jeff Bartlett

See our complete 2008 LA Auto Show coverage, and read other blogs about the LA Auto Show.

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