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Hyundai says no to Prius rival for Oz

No thanks: Hyundai is focussing on hydrogen fuel cell-power for Australia (shown here with the ix35 model) and is leaving a Toyota Prius rival for hybrid-hungry nations such as the US.

Upcoming hybrid ignored as Hyundai Australia backs hydrogen power

Hyundai logo31 Jul 2015

HYUNDAI Motor Company Australia has passed up an upcoming petrol/electric hybrid hatchback aimed directly at the Toyota Prius, electing instead to concentrate on an all-new FCEV Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle that the company is well advanced on.

Expected to debut in concept guise at September’s IAA motor show in Frankfurt, the dedicated hybrid known internally as the ‘AE’ is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated new-model launches of next year, and has recently been caught testing in camouflaged prototype form.

However, according to HMCA chief operating officer, John Elsworth, there is far more to be gained setting the pace with a hydrogen-powered vehicle, rather than following Toyota down the hybrid road in Australia.

“For us, the answer is no to the hybrid,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the Tucson medium SUV in Thredbo. “We haven’t actually shut the door on the hybrid, but unless you can do it at the right price, there is little point in doing it.

“Also, from a brand statement point of view, we wouldn’t want to be seen following Toyota. So we have put our eggs in the hydrogen basket, and I know at this stage it is only one or two cars (fuel cell prototypes that Hyundai has built), but that has the potential to be a lot more, and could be a much bigger game changer than just a hybrid.

Mr Elsworth explained that, while the technology was already proving itself, the success of hydrogen-powered vehicles depended on local infrastructure as much as the vehicle itself.

“But it won’t happen in the next few years for Australia, and the infrastructure is the thing that will slow down the pace as to when the cars arrive,” he said. “We could do a hybrid car, but we just don’t necessary see it developing the brand. That’s why we have backed hydrogen.

“Europe is well behind the hydrogen car, which means from our point of view it’s good, because of the UK and right hand drive. When we’re fighting it out alone for cars as the only right drive market, it’s a problem. But that one seems to be getting some steam behind it.”

Earlier this year, HMCA’s opened Australia's only fuel cell vehicle refuelling station at its Macquarie Park headquarters in Sydney, with a left-hand-drive ix35 Fuel Cell imported for the occasion to underline Hyundai’s long-term support for the technology in Australia. At the time, a company spokesman said a right-hand-drive FCEV is planned for a 2018 arrival.

Meanwhile, the AE hybrid that is due for production sometime next year appears to be about the same size as the regular Prius hatch, and is said to be based on the next-generation Elantra/i30 small car architecture.

It will include a variation of the latter’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, mated to an electric motor and lithium ion battery pack, driving the front wheels via a specially modified seven-speed DCT dual-clutch transmission.

It is understood Hyundai is sharing the hybrid technology with sister brand Kia, which is said to be driving development primarily for the hybrid-hungry US market. A plug-in hybrid version is also said to be on the cards.

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