Hyundai is the one to watch in the race for electric vehicles. Here’s why


RWD, 800 volts and current output

During Hyundai’s technical presentations on the E-GMP platform, EV analysts noticed several things. It is characterized by four factors in particular: (1) It uses rear wheel drive for the single engine versions; (2) the battery can be charged with 800 volts; (3) it can be charged at home at a higher rate than today’s electric vehicles; and (4) Owners can use the battery as a source of power for electrical appliances, what Hyundai calls “Vehicle To Load” or V2L Capability.

Rear wheel drive: From the 1960s, front-wheel drive conquered the design of small cars, as it enlarged the interior space by eliminating the drive shaft. The use of much smaller electric motors between the wheels eliminates this limitation. While many car companies remain in the mass market for front-wheel drive electric cars, perhaps even because it has become what so many buyers are used to, the VW group has placed its engine in the rear. This can provide a sportier driving experience and more space under the hood at the front (which VW has not yet used). Hyundai does the same, which means its electric vehicles can be unexpectedly fun to drive.

800 volts: The battery voltage means nothing to the average consumer, but batteries with higher power can be charged faster – and that does Motorists and e-car buyers are important. So far, only Porsche has 800-volt battery packs in production, in its Taycan sports sedan and the related Audi e-tron GT. Under optimal conditions, the Taycan can be charged from 5 to 80 percent of the battery capacity in just 22 minutes.

It appears that all future Hyundai and Kia electric vehicles can be charged at speeds similar to the Porsche. That’s not bad for a mass-market brand, especially since the Volkswagen ID.4 electric crossover now for sale can’t do the same thing – neither can all other VW and Audi models based on the same ‘MEB’ bases. Developing an 800-volt battery for mass vehicles is a bold move, and it is the first high-volume manufacturer to do so. GM uses clever electrical architecture to charge its future vehicles with Ultium batteries at 800 volts, but the packs run natively on 400 V. (To forestall the howling of Tesla owners, we should note that 400 volt Teslas are short term can be charged up to 250 kW. And Lucid has a 900 volt package, but it can barely compete with Hyundai and Kia.)

Home charging rate: The Ioniq 5’s data sheet came as a surprise: the car’s built-in AC charger works with up to 10.9 kilowatts, provided the owner installs a level 2 charging station that can deliver this level of power. That’s higher than the EV standards of the past decade, which were 6.6 or 7.2 kW. Higher tariffs allow you to top up faster at home … so happier owners?

Vehicle to Load (V2L) capability: When Ford launched its first hybrid pickup, the F-150, the ability to use the high-voltage battery on board to power electrical appliances turned out to be a big selling point. Contractors could power power tools or charge their batteries, and all these lucky groups of camping or tailgating millennials could power their audio equipment, portable refrigerators, and everything else. This feature also caught a lot of attention in February when the people of Texas used their trucks to keep lights (and heaters) on during the historic cold spell and energy crisis in the state. For the fully electric F-150 Lightning, Ford has increased the stakes and provided up to 9.6 kW of power – enough to supply a house with electricity for up to three days.

With the Ioniq 5, Hyundai is still in the “Portable Appliances” warehouse, which is limited to a maximum of 1.9 kW. That’s not enough to power your house like the Ford F-150 Lightning, but it could keep your fridge or water system running – along with the boomboxes and other gadgets you’ll see in the glossy displays.

While the company has made sweeping letters of intent on electrification, industry sources suggest it is preparing to downsize its range of internal combustion engines and transmissions – all developed in-house and now one of the broadest among any major manufacturer – to Investing in EVs at a much faster pace.

Brand challenges differ

At the beginning of the 2020s, the Hyundai brand is one of the high-volume Asian brands you can rely on, alongside Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Toyota is known for reliability, Honda for driving pleasure, and both Nissan and Hyundai fall in the “value” end of the spectrum. Each new generation of Hyundais – and it comes more often than new models from Nissan, for example – is significantly more stylish, more pleasant to drive and better equipped than its predecessor. It’s not a bad place.

Kia has another problem, best encapsulated by Rolling Stone old “perception / reality” ads of the magazine. In the US, Kia may be the car brand whose perception lags the most behind the reality of the vehicles sold today. It has only been part of Hyundai since 1998; Before that, it was an independent Korean manufacturer that went bankrupt during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s. The two brands now share engines, platforms and components that buyers do not see developed by the parent company’s technical center. But Kia and Hyundai are competing fiercely in the marketplace, and their offerings are nowhere near the mirror image ranges that other manufacturers have cloned.

Until 2019, the best-selling US Kia model was the compact compact hatchback Soul “Square Box”. It’s immensely practical, but a strange-looking hatchback advertised by singing hamsters isn’t the image Kia deserves. For 2020, the Soul finally gave its crown to Kia’s small sedan Forte, the small SUV Sportage and the mid-range SUV Sorento.

But the future direction of the brand was set by the Telluride three-row crossover last year, which looked superb, drove and handled well, was critically acclaimed as if that was their whole job, and represented amazing value by the Buyers who did not compromise, no compromise required stamped with dealers to order one. It rightly received the North American Utility of the Year Award in 2020. [Disclosure: This author is one of 50-odd jurors who vote each year to determine winners of that trio of awards.]

Since launching the Telluride, Kia has dumped the hamsters, redesigned its logo, and continued to launch great-looking new vehicles. Every model sold is stylish, with shapes that seem more refined than the sister brand’s occasionally too rigorous design efforts. The only downer is a new “global” naming system that has abolished the well-known and recognizable Optima model name for the Anodyne “K5”. (Apparently its EVs will have a similar pattern starting with “EV6” just like VW has ID.4 and so on. Feh.)

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