Hyundai quietly makes big gains in EV race as sales surge

Calm down for a second Elon Musk, the hottest things in the auto industry – the hottest electrical appliances – now come from Hyundai Motor.

Earlier this year, South Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia launched two new battery-powered cars – the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and its sibling, the Kia EV6 – which quickly tore up the sales charts, overtaking the Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Bolt and all the others. other electric vehicle on the market not manufactured by Tesla. In the United States this year through May, Hyundai and Kia sold 21,467 of these two machines, even surpassing the white-hot Ford Mustang Mach-E, which was purchased by 15,718 drivers.

“From an EV perspective, they’re just cleaning the floor,” said Edmunds analyst Joseph Yoon. “Honestly, I don’t know if any dealers around me have any in stock.”

Tesla is still selling far more cars, but it took the company a decade to deliver as many electric vehicles as Hyundai and Kia managed in a few months. Even Mr. Musk was impressed.

Certainly, Hyundai is not a start-up. And the design of today’s successes began about six years ago, said Steve Kosowski, head of long-term strategy at Kia America. At the time, the Chevrolet Bolt had just hit the market, and Kia was considering a car similar in size and range. In the end, Mr. Kosowski and company lit up something much bigger, sportier and classier – at a slightly higher price.

“The thinking was, with the platform that we have and the understanding of the market that we have, let’s come up with a really bold and game-changing proposition,” he recalls. “We will declare that Kia is here.”

The timing was favorable. The adoption of electric vehicles is accelerating in the United States, thanks to an increase in climate concerns and fuel prices. And while there’s a rush on battery-powered vehicles, there’s still not much to choose from. Of the approximately 30 models on sale in the US market, only a handful can be had for less than $45,000 and most of them are relatively small and dated cars like the Nissan Leaf.

Both the Ioniq 5 and EV6 offer the cargo space of a small SUV, the size and shape of a vehicle that has invaded American garages lately. Both cars ride on the same modular platform, incorporate the same motors and batteries, and boast similar speed specs. They’re equipped with displays and charge at some of the fastest rates in the industry, adding nearly 25 kilometers of range in one minute under ideal conditions. They also offer a few features never before seen in space: foot pedals to adjust regenerative braking and bi-directional power (yes, you can run power tools or charge another electric vehicle with one of these machines).

Starting at around $40,000, they attract buyers with smaller budgets who might otherwise have bought a starter sedan, Mr. Yoon at Edmunds said. And yet they’re plush enough inside to pull from the top of the market too, as drivers trade in luxury cars with internal combustion engines.

“These two cars came at the right price and size for a lot of buyers,” Yoon said. “And I think there’s a level of inherent trust with a big manufacturer coming into the game with a big audience.”

Emad Zia and his wife had only planned to “dip our toes” into the electric vehicle market when Hyundai’s new cars were launched this winter. The two love sporty cars – preferably with a shifter – but wanted something bigger than the Volkswagen Golf R and Mazda Miata in their Dallas garage. They settled on the Ioniq 5 based solely on photos and speed specs, then ordered an EV6 when they couldn’t find the Hyundai for near sticker price.

“We’re used to having – I don’t mean underdogs – but unique cars,” Mr Zia said. “And the look and uniqueness of this car just doesn’t get old.”

Until now, around three in four EV6 buyers have previously driven a car from another brand, according to Kia figures, and only one in 10 have ever owned a plug-in vehicle. The current waitlist for the EV6 is about six months long, and the average transaction price is a few thousand dollars above the list price, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, suggesting most buyers are willing to pay a premium.

“Our dealers report that these cars sell out within hours,” said Eric Watson, vice president of sales for Kia America.

Kosowski said new Hyundai products are capitalizing, in part, on “Tesla fatigue” as premium sedans and SUVs become ubiquitous even beyond coastal states. What’s more, Hyundai owners are sticking to what they know – of those who have recently traded in a Hyundai or Kia, about 60% have stuck with the brand, according to Edmunds.

Hyundai plans to launch a new battery-powered car every year for the rest of the decade and is spending $16.5 billion to boost production of electric vehicles in South Korea. By 2030, the automaker wants to claim 12% of the global electric vehicle market, or some 3.2 million cars and trucks.

“They are definitely one step ahead,” Mr. Yoon says. “Toyota and Subaru will have to see if they can catch up.”

Updated: June 26, 2022, 04:00

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