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Prices turn drivers away from hybrids

Despite the hype from carmakers and the government’s drive to popularize eco-friendly vehicles, South Korean motorists remain lukewarm toward hybrid electric vehicles.

According to industry statistics, less than 8,700 hybrid electric vehicles were sold here in 2010, accounting for less than 0.56 percent of the overall market.

Of the 11 hybrid electric models available in Korea, Hyundai Motor Co.’s Avante LPi Hybrid was the top seller with 4,133 units, followed by Kia Motors Corp.’s Forte LPi Hybrid.

With both vehicles tallying up less-than-impressive figures, the country’s first hybrid electric cars are set to be discontinued within the year.

In contrast to Korea where hybrid electric cars have been met with indifference, such vehicles continue to take up much larger portions of overseas markets.

In 2010, hybrid electric vehicles took up about 2.4 percent of the U.S. market despite sales having fallen 5.8 percent from the previous year. In comparison, car sales in the U.S. increased by 11.1 percent over the same period to 11.59 million units. Hybrid electric car sales came in at roughly 275,000 units.

In Japan, Toyota Motor Corp.’s hybrid electric car Prius sales hit an all-time high of 315,000 units, which is close to 10 percent of the 3.23 million automobiles sold in that country last year.
Hyundai Motor Co.’s Avante LPi Hybrid that will be discontinued this year after less than two years on the market. (Hyundai Motor Co.)
Hyundai Motor Co.’s Avante LPi Hybrid that will be discontinued this year after less than two years on the market. (Hyundai Motor Co.)


While such vehicles are far superior than conventional cars in terms of fuel economy, those in the industry say that lower fuel costs may not be sufficient to draw motorists to the more expensive hybrid electric cars.

“The relatively high prices were the main factor in dragging hybrid sales. Hybrid buyers aren’t looking for performance but high fuel efficiency, but due to the large price gap with conventional cars, hybrid cars lost much of their merit,” an industry official said.

“Even with the acquisition and registration taxes being exempted for hybrid cars lowering actual prices by 2 million to 3 million won from the marked prices, high fuel economy may be insufficient advantage.”

While the Avante LPi Hybrid far outpaces conventional vehicles in terms of fuel economy, the price tag begins at 21.88 million won ($19,500), higher than the starting price of 18.9 million won for the conventional Avante, and higher even than the midsized sedan Sonata’s 20.02 million won price tag.

The price gap between conventional vehicles and hybrid electric cars also exists in imported brands’ lineups.

The Toyota Camry, which was the country’s third-bestselling imported vehicle last year, is priced at 34.9 million won, while the hybrid electric version of the car comes at a hefty 45.9 million won.

The Prius also comes at a high price for its size.

While the vehicle has a 1.8-liter engine, larger than those usually found in compact cars, but smaller than midsized vehicles, its dimensions are similar to that of the Avante. However, the car is priced at 37.9 million won, which is more than 1 million won more than the price of the second most expensive trim of Hyundai’s Grandeur.

Being in essence the same as conventional vehicles aside from fuel economy, hybrid cars have little more than lower fuel costs to lure motorists.

The current Avante fitted with a 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection engine manages 16.5 kilometers per liter of fuel.

The Avante LPi Hybrid manages 17.8 kilometers per liter.

Applying an annual driving distance of 20,000 kilometers, and the average gasoline price of 1,822.7 won per liter and LPG price of 1,068.28 won per liter recorded during the second week of January, hybrid drivers save about 1 million won over the course of a year.

Using the disparity in fuel costs, a hybrid Avante owner will make up the initial price gap of about 3 million won in three years.

With the Camry managing 12 kilometers per liter and the Camry Hybrid managing 19 .7 kilometers per liter, it would take more than 9 years to make up the price difference of 11 million won using the savings gained from lower fuel consumption.

For the Avante and Forte LPi Hybrids, the use of LPG over gasoline may also have played a part in dragging sales down.

While cheaper than gasoline, LPG-powered engines are less powerful than their gasoline counterparts, and the relative scarcity of refueling stations also puts some motorists off.

However, Hyundai, whose first foray into the hybrid electric market has been less than stellar, is hoping for a better turn of events with the gasoline-electric hybrid version of the midsized Sonata that could hit the local market this coming summer.

“With the Sonata we expect that the price gap won’t play as significant a role, as consumers tend to become less sensitive toward small price differences in larger segments,” a Hyundai official said. He added that the company currently has no plans to develop a hybrid electric version of the new Avante.

The company also appears to be quite confident in the hybrid version of the Sonata’s ability to measure up to more established models such as the Camry Hybrid.

“The figures for Korea aren’t out yet, but by U.S. standards, the Sonata hybrid is slightly more fuel efficient than that Camry hybrid. In the long run, the company is also planning hybrid-only vehicles similar to the Toyota Prius.”

By Choi He-suk  (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

<한글 기사>

작년 11종으로 늘었지만 점유율 0.56% 불과

작년 한 해 국내 자동차 시장에 수입차를 중심으로 친환경 하이브리드 차량 판매가 본격화했지만, 여전히 수요는 미미한 수준으로 집계됐다.

18일 관련 업계에 따르면 작년 국내에서 판매된 하이브리드 차량은 모두 11종으로 총 8천636대(국산 6천349대, 수입 2천287대)가 팔려 전체 시장(155만5천992대)에서 차지하는 점유율은 0.56%에 그쳤다.

전년도인 2009년 7천585대가 판매돼 점유율 0.52%을 기록했던 것과 비교해 판매 차종이 늘어난 것을 감안하면 차이는 무시해도 좋을 정도다.

특히 현대차 '아반떼 LPi 하이브리드'는 4천133대가 팔려 전년(5천150대)보다 오히려 줄었고, 기아차 '포르테 하이브리드 LPi'도 2천216대에 불과했다.

두 차종은 단종될 예정이며, 현대기아차가 의욕적으로 도입했던 LPG 하이브리드카는 사실상 실패로 끝나게 됐다.

수입 하이브리드 차량도 성적이 기대에 크게 못미쳤다.

2009년 10월에 출시한 도요타 프리우스와 캠리 하이브리드는 각각 1천315대, 403대를 판매하는데 그쳤고, 렉서스 LS600hL(84대), GS450h(45대), RX450h(127대)는 모두 전년보다 판매량이 줄었다.

혼다는 시빅 하이브리드가 2009년 134대에서 작년에는 43대로 판매가 급감했고, 인사이트는 두 달 동안 140대가 팔렸지만 아직은 전망이 불투명한 상황이다.

벤츠 S400 하이브리드는 2009년 3개월간 56대가 팔렸으나 작년에는 한 해 동안 101대에 그쳤고, BMW 액티브 하이브리드7과 X6 하이브리드, 포르쉐 카이옌 S 하이브리드는 각각 16대, 12대, 1대씩만 팔렸다.

올해는 현대기아차가 쏘나타, K5의 가솔린 하이브리드 버전을 내놓고, 렉서스 CT200h와 푸조 3008 하이브리드가 새롭게 출시되지만, 판매가 급격히 늘어나지는 않을 것이라는 게 전문가들의 중론이다.

업계 관계자는 "정부가 지원을 늘리고 있지만 아직 상대적으로 비싼 가격과 연비에 대한 의문, 친환경차에 대한 대중의 인식 부족으로 이웃 일본과는 달리 하이브리드 차량의 수요 증가는 아직 더 긴 시간을 필요로 한다"고 말했다. (연합뉴스)

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