Hyundai bets on Sonata hybrids — one a plug-in

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hyundai Motor Group revealed a Sonata hybrid and its first ever plug-in hybrid (also a Sonata) Monday at the North American International Auto Show. The two vehicles represent the fourth and fifth new installments out of 12 the Korean automaker plans to release in a 36-month period.

The automaker also revealed its Santa Cruz truck crossover concept, built on a Tucson platform, which the company said would allow it to compete in the growing CUV market while providing the cargo space of a truck bed.

Dave Zuchowski, President and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, said the concept is a highly researched one geared toward what the company calls "urban adventurers," millennials who are more interested in moving into the city, need the space of a truck, but don't want a full-size pickup.

"It may not be the vehicle the industry expects, but it's most certainly the vehicle these buyers want and demand," said Zuchowski. "We're not interested in plowing the same old ground everyone else is."

To be sure, the truck crossover concept has been done before, but Mark Dipko, director of corporate planning for Hyundai Motor America, says this model is set apart. The Santa Cruz has a choice of powertrains, including a diesel option for fuel economy in the city. The cargo bay has an option to allow it to extend to accommodate items that would typically need a full-size truck bed. And most of all, it provides the customer with a way of expressing their interests.

"It's a unique and bold design that's just plain cool," said Dipko.

The hybrid Sonata goes on sale this spring while the company targets a summer release for the plug-in hybrid Sonata. They are expecting to sell the most in the west and east coast markets. The hybrid will get a 50-kw electric motor that can travel up to 22 miles entirely on battery power, before needing a three-hour recharge. Combined with the engine, it will get an estimated 93 miles per gallon. The hybrid version will get an estimated 44 miles per gallon, the company said.

North American sales for the world's fifth largest automaker were hot in 2014. An all-time best in sales in December (64,507 vehicles) helped the Korean automaker sell 725,718 units during the year. The biggest portion of those sales were the Elantra and the Sonata sedans.

But the automaker's American sales haven't been accelerating as fast as they have in previous years. After forecasting the slowest annual sales growth in more than a decade, the automaker plans to spend the equivalent of $73.7 billion over the next four years on factories, research and development and a new headquarters in Seoul.

The automaker plans two new Hyundai factories in China and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. is also expanding capacity at its existing Chinese factory.

Earlier in the year, Hyundai announced $10.1 billion would be spent on land for the new headquarters. Combined with the investment in new factories, that will account for more than half of the investment planned by the company over the next four years.

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Associated Press contributed