In 2016, Hyundai introduced the Ioniq, a smallish passenger car that came in three flavors — hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric. It was stylish and the EV version was one of the most efficient electric cars available at the time. Its only shortcoming was that it had a small battery, which meant it couldn’t go very far on a single charge. This week, Hyundai announced it will make Ioniq into a separate brand specializing in electric vehicles, just as Genesis has become a separate brand dedicated to luxury and high performance cars.
To fulfill Ioniq’s brand mission, Hyundai will combine its current EV capabilities — such as ultra-fast charging, spacious interior, and battery-supplied power — with future innovations that combine design, technologies and services to integrate in-car and out-of-car experiences for a seamless journey, the company says in a press release.
“The Ioniq brand will change the paradigm of EV customer experience. With a new emphasis on connected living, we will offer electrified experiences integral to an eco-friendly lifestyle,” says Wonhong Cho, executive vice president and global chief marketing officer for Hyundai. The announcement is apparently part of the wakeup call Hyundai received when the Tesla Model 3 became an instant sales hit, a bolt from the blue that convinced senior management to jump into the EV revolution with both feet.
Its response was to create an all new, dedicated EV platform it calls e-GMP (electrified global mobility platform?), a flexible chassis that will unpin a range of future electric vehicles from Hyundai and corporate cousin KIA. Think of it as being like the Volkswagen MEB platform with an Asian accent. All manufacturers have similar platforms — known as tool kits within the industry — that allow them to build multiple models on one basic chassis. Those tool kits are essential to churning out millions of cars that may look quite different on the outside but which all share the same basic architecture.
In an interview with Auto Express, Sang Yup Lee, head of Hyundai’s Global Design Center, explained his company’s approach to styling when a common platform is used. “Our cars will be more like a chess board where you have a King, Queen, Bishop, Knight. They all look different and function differently but when they’re together, they come as one team. This is what the Hyundai look is all about — diversifying our design to fulfill our customer’s lifestyle. People say that you have to default with the grille looking the same and headlights looking the same, but we want to challenge that consistency in detail. So the cars will look completely different.”
The company says the e-GMP platform “will allow Hyundai to reimagine the vehicle interior as a ‘smart living space’ with highly adjustable seats, wireless connectivity, and unique features such as a glove box designed as drawers. The platform paradigm shift will extend into the user interfaces that will be simple, intuitive and ergonomically designed to help occupants feel at ease.”
Apparently the original Ioniq will continue in production, at least in battery electric form. As we reported a few weeks ago, the first BEV Ioniqs have now started rolling off an assembly line in Ethiopia. It is unclear whether the company will continue to produce the hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the car for sale in selected world markets.
What we do know is the new Ioniq brand will offer three new electric cars, beginning in early 2021 with the Ioniq 5, the production version of the Hyundai 45 concept car first revealed to the public at the Frankfurt auto show in 2019. The company says all the odd numbered models will be SUV-type vehicles while the even numbered offerings will be passenger cars. The Ioniq 5 is a crossover utility vehicle design whose most prominent feature will be a sharp 45-degree angle embossed into its flanks on both sides.
“Ioniq 5’s designers took inspiration from the past and integrated it with cutting-edge parametric pixels, a unique design element that Hyundai designers will continue to incorporate into future Ioniq models,” the company says. Make of that what you will. It also insists on spelling the new brand name in all capital letters, a pretense some members of the press find irritating and more than a little silly.
One point of confusion at the moment arises from the company’s announcement a short while ago that it will soon introduce the Hyundai NE, which is also based on the 45 Concept. Are the Hyundai NE and the Ioniq 5 the same car with minor styling differences? And if Ioniq is to be Hyundai’s electric car brand, why offer essentially the same vehicle using two different name plates? Inquiring minds want to know.
Following in 2022, the seductively sexy (eat your heart out, Elon!) Ioniq 6 will debut, based upon the Hyundai Prophesy concept car revealed earlier this year. That car is said to be inspired by the “streamline” designs made popular in the 1930s, according to Sang Yup Lee. In 2024, expect the Ioniq 7 to appear, a larger electric SUV that we know little about. It is the concept car located in the middle of the photo at the beginning of this story.
Hyundai says it wants to be a global leader in electric cars by 2025 and yet its manufacturing plans seem to underestimate the demand for electrics. Unlike Tesla, which is pushing boldly forward by building new factories everywhere, Hyundai says it will have only two dedicated EV manufacturing lines in operation within the next few years with a total capacity of about 300,000 cars a year. That’s a lot, but not nearly enough to be a world leader.
In the US, Hyundai (and KIA) only offer their electric cars in states that follow the California emission rules. It seems the company is hedging its bets rather than boldly going where no vehicle manufacturer has gone before. That will need to change if Hyundai truly wants to be known as an electric car company rather than a niche player.
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