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Carmakers gear up for plug-in vehicle war

Global carmakers are in fierce competition to become a winner in the plug-in electric vehicle market

Falling oil prices are not expected to put a brake on the zeal for battery-powered, plug-in clean cars, as global automakers are competing to expand their electric vehicle lineup to win the battle for the clean car market.

Carmakers have diversified their lineups of plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles.

The trend was well reflected through the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit from Jan. 12-25.

“At the show, most of global carmakers clearly delivered a message that they are expanding their plug-in EV lineup, meaning that competition in the segment will accelerate this year,” an industry insider said. 
Hyundai Motor’s plug-in Hybrid vehicle Sonata
Hyundai Motor’s plug-in Hybrid vehicle Sonata

Hyundai Motor adds competition by declaring its entry into the electric vehicle market this year, unveiling its first battery-powered vehicle ― a plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata midsize sedan at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.

Within Hyundai Motor Group, Kia Motors, a sister company of Hyundai Motor, has focused on for plug-in EVs, while Hyundai has led the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The fuel cell cars are also electric vehicles, but the battery is charged by converting hydrogen gas into electricity in an onboard fuel cell.

“Hyundai Motor will strengthen its competitiveness in overall eco-friendly car lineups, including not only fuel cells but also plug-in hybrid cars,” said Hyundai Motor vice chairman Chung Eui-sun at the motor show.

Hyundai said it plans to start selling the Sonata PHEV this year in California and nine other U.S. states that mandate sales of zero-emission vehicles.

German carmakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW have also expanded their investments in developing plug-in hybrids, highlighting their strength of having longer ranges than full-electric vehicles.

General Motors is pinning its hopes on full-electric vehicles in the U.S. market. The U.S. carmaker unveiled Chevrolet Bolt, a concept electric vehicle, at the same international motor show, which can go 320 kilometers on a single charge.

Armed with an affordable price of about $30,000, GM said it would roll out the full-electric car brand in two years in the U.S. market.
The Tesla Model S P85D
The Tesla Model S P85D

Chevrolet’s Bolt EVs are expected to pose a threat to the expensive Tesla EVs. Tesla’s flagship Model S sedan, which can go 425 kilometers on a single charge, costs about $70,000. 
GM’s new electric vehicle Chevrolet Bolt
GM’s new electric vehicle Chevrolet Bolt

Industry watchers said the competition will lead Tesla to step up the release of more affordable EV model.

Besides plug-in EVs, Japanese carmakers, including Toyota and Honda, have currently capitalized on hydrogen fuel cell cars to lead the eco-car market.

Industry watchers said, “As all eco-cars are in an infant stage, it is early to tell which type of eco-cars, including plug-in EVs and fuel cell cars, will win the battle.”

“One thing for sure now is that carmakers will expand their eco-car line-ups, depending on the market growth projection.”

Industry analysts anticipate that demand for eco-friendly vehicles will soar to 6.4 million units in 2020 from 2.2 million in 2014.

By Seo Jee-yeon (jyseo@heraldcorp.com)
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