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[Herald Interview] ‘Eco-friendly cars key despite cheap oil’

Despite the decline in oil prices and its effect on consumer confidence, the global green car market will continue to prosper, an analyst said.

“The need for better environmentally friendly cars transcends economic costs. The words of Chinese President Xi and U.S. President Obama reflect the fact that regardless of the energy cost, there is a drive for regulation,” said James Chao, director of Asia-Pacific at IHS Automotive Advisory Services.

“The falling oil price may have affected consumers. But believe it or not, about 90 percent of my conversations with clients are about bettering fuel economy. Everyone is talking about it,” he told The Korea Herald.
James Chao, Asia-Pacific director of IHS Automotive Advisory Services
James Chao, Asia-Pacific director of IHS Automotive Advisory Services

The company, which provides consultancy to global carmakers including Hyundai and Kia motors, and parts providers, has forecast that global eco-friendly car production would triple by 2020, reaching up to 6.4 million units in 2020 from 2.2 million in 2014.

More eco-friendly vehicles mean more jobs and the creation of a whole new industry and market.

“There’s a lot of room for not only the carmakers but also parts and other industries,” Chao said. “Let’s talk about China. By 2020, we are talking about a vehicle market of 30 million units, perhaps the largest market in the world. … And the fact that Chinese government is significantly tightening regulations by 2020 is a good reason for global players to make considerable investments,” he said.

In line with the global trend, Hyundai Motor Group has recently announced its “2020 mileage improvement road map,” calling for improvements to powertrains, measures to reduce vehicle weight, and more hybrid, electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Hyundai and Kia, the two carmakers run by the world’s fifth-largest automotive group, have been commissioned to achieve industry-best fuel economy ratings by 2020, to comply with the ever-tightening international regulations on carbon emissions and others.

The company is also determined to expand its lineup of eco-friendly cars by 2020, releasing 12 hybrid vehicles, six plug-in hybrids, two full-electric vehicles and two fuel-cell vehicles and step up to the world’s No. 2 position. The carmaker, mindful of its global competitor Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle Mirai, has established the world’s first mass-production line for fuel cell cars.

“It may seem that (Hyundai) is unfocused, but I don’t think it is a bad strategy for a late comer. Especially at times when uncertainty is dominant, it could well be referred to as being prudent,” he said, defending the company’s apparent scattershot approach to green technology.

“Hyundai’s operation in China through its joint venture, Beijing Hyundai Motor Co., has been thriving. Although a latecomer in the U.S., it has built a solid ground in the low- to mid-range car market. These are not to be neglected. It will take time, but we will be talking about environmentally friendly cars in the near future,” he said.

By Bae Ji-sook (
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