Hyundai has been reaching for the stars lately, comparing its cars to other automakers' luxury models and launching the Genesis luxury sedan. Now the company wants to be "the most fuel-efficient automaker on the planet," according to Hyundai Vice President for Product Development John Krafcik. To achieve its lofty goals, Hyundai showed off its Blue Drive hybrid power train at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show. This power train works similarly to full hybrids from Toyota and Ford, powering the car under electric or a combination of gas and electric, but Hyundai takes a leap forward by using third-generation battery technology.
Current production hybrids use nickel metal hydride battery packs, while various automakers look to lithium ion battery packs as a second-generation storage technology. Hyundai is working with supplier LG Chem to develop lithium polymer batteries for its hybrid power train. Lithium battery technology has greater power density, so Hyundai's battery pack can deliver the same power while taking up half the space of a nickel metal hydride battery pack. Hyundai also says lithium polymer batteries use simpler construction than lithium ion batteries, so they can be 20 percent smaller. Hyundai is testing the batteries to make sure they can meet a 10-year/150,000-mile life.
Besides the battery, Hyundai's hybrid system uses a 30 kilowatt electric motor and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Hyundai is developing this system for the next generation of the Sonata, and expects to be building Sonata Hybrids for the U.S. market in 2010. In this application, the gas engine will shut down when the car is stopped. When the driver presses the accelerator, the car starts moving under electric power only until the car needs enough oomph that its power management module decides to crank over the gas engine.