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Should Toyota Be Concerned About the Hyundai IONIQ?

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Hyundai Ioniq debut at Geneva Motor Show reveal - Toyota Prius Fighter

The Hyundai IONIQ “Toyota Prius-fighter” was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show this week

This week at the Geneva Motor Show, Hyundai at long last pulled back the covers on what it calls its “Prius-fighter,” the Hyundai IONIQ. What is unique about the IONIQ is that it can be had with one of three green powertrain options: hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric.

Watch the trailer for the three new IONIQ models (but though the music is tempting, please resist the urge to do some funky robot dance on the toilet while you watch):

Hyundai hopes to reach the Toyota Prius’ level of success with the IONIQ, and fast. And the IONIQ does have one trick up its sleeve that the Prius does not—electrification. Currently, the Prius is only offered as a true hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. The Prius does have the c and v variants that just change up its size, but rumor has it that those are coasting straight toward the chopping block (and collecting some energy via regenerative braking along the way).

Can the Hyundai IONIQ really rival the Toyota Prius?

Can the Hyundai IONIQ really rival the Toyota Prius?

So why isn’t there an electric Prius option? Because electric vehicles are stupid, says Toyota, that’s why. After a mostly failed experiment with the RAV4 EV, Toyota confirmed its investment in hydrogen power. While Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, once conceded in an interview with Automotive News that EVs are viable in “a select way, in short range vehicles that take you that extra mile,” the automaker stands firmly behind its belief that they are not realistic for most drivers.

Craig Scott, the national alternative fuel vehicle manager for Toyota, said the following in an interview with Forbes contributor Brooke Crothers:

We don’t see any battery technology that would allow us to…give customers a comparable driving experience at a reasonable price. We don’t see anything for the next ten years because if there was something in the laboratory today it would probably take seven to ten years to get into a production vehicle. With batteries there is a fundamental science problem that we don’t know how to solve. It’s going to require a new material that doesn’t yet exist. How long that takes is anyone’s guess. But when you look at fuel cells, we’ve already identified all of the materials that are necessary to have a substantial cost reduction and the performance of the vehicle already matches that of a gasoline vehicle. The only remaining challenges really are getting further cost reductions, which is something we’re doing anyway.

Will Toyota’s refusal to consider an all-electric Prius put it at a disadvantage once the IONIQ hits the market? I highly doubt it. According to Inside EVs, only 116,099 EVs were sold in 2015 here in the United States (out of the 17.5 million total vehicles sold last year in the US). While many choose to lease EVs, the market is still considerably small. Plus, “Toyota Prius” has become synonymous with the word “hybrid”; I suspect it’ll take some time to do any real damage to that subconscious association.

There is a lot that is appealing about the electric IONIQ, like its 155-mile range and its 24-minute recharge time (to 80%). It’s a good vehicle in its own right, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be any real threat to Toyota’s sales. As for the hybrid and the plug-in hybrid IONIQ models’ chances at going head-to-head with the Prius and Prius plug-in—they might put a dent in Toyota’s sales, but I have a feeling it’s a dent that won’t bother Toyota too badly.

News Sources: Inside EVs, Forbes, Automotive News (subscription required)

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