In the 15 years since Toyota launched the Prius hybrid, no automaker has come close to its sales success worldwide. Hyundai plans to change all that with this car, named the Ioniq, shown here for the first time uncovered in spy shots.
With gas prices below $2 a gallon in parts of the United States, any new hybrid/electric sedan faces a tough audience. Sales of hybrids have shrunk this year even as the larger market boomed—and about 75 percent of the hybrids that did sell wore either a Toyota or Lexus badge. With the all-new Prius hitting dealers now, Toyota will be pushing the car toward new buyers and launching a series of variants to fill out the line.
All of which makes the Ioniq’s task that much harder—but unlike most automakers who’ve fiddled with hybrids as a hobby, Hyundai has followed Toyota’s playbook and committed to the task. The Ioniq will be its own model, not a subset of an existing sedan, riding an all-new chassis designed for hybrids and electric power. The sleek hatch shape mimics the Prius, Honda Insight and other models designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, and in these shots looks fairly handsome.
Hyundai has said it will build the Ioniq in three versions: all-electric, plug-in hybrid and regular gas-electric hybrid running lithium-ion batteries. Power for the non-electric versions will also come from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder. After official debuts this spring, it should start hitting dealers late in 2016, with prices right in line with those of the Prius.
When it launches, the Ioniq will be the first car from a major automaker available with three levels of electric power. So far, cars with a plug have proven far less popular than needed for automakers to meet environmental targets, let alone make back their investment in technology and manufacturing. With Toyota taking a challenging approach to design with the new Prius, the Ioniq will certainly get some interest from eco-friendly shoppers. Whether the rest of the world pays attention will likely depend less on the Ioniq’s merits and more on whether gasoline stays cheaper per gallon than milk.
Photos: Brian Williams for SpiedBilde, under license to Yahoo Autos.