From hybrids to hydrogen fuel cell, Hyundai has been at the forefront of the development of environmentally-friendly vehicles now for three decades.
Providing clean mobility and promoting a sustainable future are key elements related to our progressive mind-set, which is driving the company forward.
Although electric cars and hybrids have only started to become widely sold in the past decade, we actually unveiled our first pure electric car as far back as 1991. Since then, several popular eco-friendly models have followed. In 2020, we’re celebrating 30 years of e-mobility.
1990s - The development of our first EVs
Hyundai took its first steps in the development of EVs in the early 1990s. We unveiled our first pure electric car, the Sonata Electric Vehicle, in 1991. A concept based on the Sonata saloon, it featured a lead-acid battery and offered a range of 43 miles, as well as a top speed of 42 mph.
In the following years we unveiled more lead-acid battery EV concepts. In 1992, an EV based on the Excel featured a range of 62 miles and a top speed of 62 mph. In 1993 a second Sonata-based EV was developed with a range of 86 miles and a top speed of 74mph. Then, in 1994, an EV based on the Scoupe was revealed, with a range of 86 miles.
The opening of our Research and Development centre in Namyang, South Korea, in 1995 led to the development of Hyundai EVs with nickel-metal hydride batteries. The Accent EV concept offered a greatly improved range of 242 miles kilometres and a top speed of 86 mph.
It’s during this period we began our first experiments with hybrid propulsion systems. The FGV-1 concept, debuted at the 1995 Seoul Motor Show.
2000s – Advancements in fuel cell technology
By the turn of the millennium, concerns about our environment were becoming more prevalent. Back in 1998 we began developing fuel cell vehicle, and introduced a prototype fuel cell car - the Santa Fe Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) concept in 2000.
Our first FCEV featured a 350-bar hydrogen tank, it was equipped with a 75 kW fuel cell and offered a range of 142 miles. Though these statistics were impressive for the time, they illustrated that, in combination with the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen cars, fuel cells were not viable as mass-production cars at that time.
At the 2004 Geneva Motor Show, we announced our second-generation fuel cell concept, the Tucson FCEV, which was equipped with a new lithium polymer battery. It incorporated a series of technical advancements including an 80 kW fuel cell stack and an extended driving range of 186 miles. This was made possible due to its 152-litre hydrogen storage tanks. In addition, the Tucson FCEV featured cold weather starting capability, meaning it was still able to be driven after being subjected to temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius for five days.
Towards the end of the 2000s, other car manufacturers began mass-producing hybrid vehicles. Hyundai maintained its innovation leadership in alternative drive systems by launching the Avante LPI Hybrid production model in 2009. It was the world’s first hybrid vehicle to be powered by an internal combustion engine built to run on liquefied petroleum gas as a fuel.
The LPI Hybrid was the first production car to adopt lithium polymer batteries, which was developed together with local partners. These have the advantage of being lighter weight and higher power.
2010s – Hyundai becomes a pioneer of future mobility
Following two decades of extensive research and innovative concepts, we turned our focus towards making electric production models a reality during the 2010s.
We launched BlueOn, our first production electric car, in Seoul in September 2010. It was based on the Hyundai i10 and featured a range of 86 miles and a top speed of 80mph. It was equipped with a 16.4 kWh lithium-polymer battery and had a six-hour charging time. Sales were limited to South Korea, and used to serve their government’s agencies.
In 2011, sales began of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. As well as being the first conventional full hybrid vehicle to use lithium-ion polymer batteries, the Sonata Hybrid utilised our Blue Drive technology, which improved overall fuel consumption and reduced exhaust emissions.
We celebrated a key milestone in eco-mobility in 2013 as the ix35 Fuel Cell became the first commercially mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the world. The ix35 had a power output of 100 kW and tank containing 5.64 kg of hydrogen as well as a 24 kWh lithium polymer battery. The vehicle’s quick refuelling time and 370 mile driving range, combined with its lack of CO2 emissions, provided benefits for both customers and society as a whole.
In 2016, the IONIQ range was introduced. The world’s first car to offer separate hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric powertrains in one body type. IONIQ uses Blue Drive technology to lower emissions and improve performance. The electric version features a 38.3 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery and a range of 193 miles.
Each IONIQ model is built with lightweight materials including aluminium and advanced high-strength steel, so it uses less energy while being driven. Other ways it protects the environment include its innovative use of recycled and organic materials and reduced reliance on oil-based products.
Hyundai launched NEXO, its second-generation fuel cell vehicle and technological flagship, in 2018. Featuring a best-in-class driving range of 413 miles, NEXO combines clean mobility with the latest autonomous driving capabilities and smart advanced driving assistance systems.
Later in 2018, Hyundai announced the world’s first subcompact electric SUV, the Kona Electric. Customer demand for the Kona Electric exceeded all expectations following its launch in Europe. Available in two battery versions, 39.2 kWh and 64 kWh, the all-electric SUV offers a range of up to 278 miles on a single charge.
After 30 years of innovation in the development of environmentally-friendly vehicles, Hyundai now offers the most diverse range of EVs on the market. With NEXO, we are already working on the new generation of fuel cell electric vehicles. IONIQ is also already on its second generation, showcasing the fact that we are optimising alternative-powertrain vehicles.
With a new decade underway, Hyundai continues to look towards the future in order to further strengthen our position as a leader of eco-mobility. 2020 is the company’s “Year of Electrification”, which means that we plans to offer over three-quarters of our line-up in the UK as an electrified version by the end of the year, as well as becoming one of the biggest providers of zero emission vehicles in Europe.
Not content to stop at passenger cars, we are even bringing electrification to other aspects of mobility – namely, to race cars and commercial trucks. By 2025, we plan to be one of the top three providers of electric vehicles in Europe.