Hyundai launches new Kona in Ireland, and outlines future global engine strategy

Korean car maker continues to invest in petrol and diesel, as Chinese sales tail off

Hyundai’s new Kona small SUV starts with a price of €20,995 for a Comfort model, using the 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol turbo engine

Hyundai’s new Kona small SUV starts with a price of €20,995 for a Comfort model, using the 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol turbo engine


Hyundai has announced Irish prices for its new Kona small SUV, which is now on sale. The new compact crossover will start with a price of €20,995 for a Comfort model, using the 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol turbo engine. Hyundai is already putting pressure on its new arrival, pointing out that it expects the Kona to dominate its segment in the same manner as its larger brother, the Tucson, which has become the best-selling single model in the country for the past two years. That would mean it will have to shift more than the 1,800 units shifted so far this year by the class leader, the Renault Captur.

Of course, there are bigger plans for the Kona than simply dominating the Irish crossover market. While the car will initially launch with a petrol-only lineup (the 120hp 1.0-litre being joined by a 177hp 1.6 T-GDI turbo petrol model), a new diesel engine will come on stream in 2018, followed by an all-electric Kona in 2019.

Those new powertrains are part of Hyundai’s newly-announced strategy for its engine line-up which does not consist, as one might expect, of a note that simply says “bin diesels, make batteries”.

In fact, Hyundai believes that conventional petrol and diesel engines will hold sway over the global market until 2025 at the earliest, when battery and plug-in hybrid powertrains will begin to take over. So, the Korean car maker is investing heavily in a new line-up of “Smart Stream” engines and gearboxes, which will be based around a common 1.6-litre architecture. Eventually, there will be 10 petrol and six diesel versions of this family, along with six gearboxes.

All the engines will feature a new Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) system, which will allow them to switch between conventional Otto fuel-ignition cycle (with is better for power) and Atkinson cycle (which leaves the valves open for longer and which is better for economy). The engines will also be smaller and lighter than the current Hyundai line-up, creating a virtuous circle of efficiency. The company’s engineers claim that these new engines will be able to hit the magic 50 per cent figure for thermal efficiency, a measure of how much fuel burned actually goes to power the car, and how much is wasted as heat. That’s about as good as the best hybrid engines currently manage.

Some efficiencies will come from a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which Hyundai claims will be able to deliver “both faster acceleration performance and excellent fuel economy at the same time”.

Looking further to the future, Hyundai also said that it will increase the efficiency and energy storage of its batteries for both its plug-in hybrid and pure electric line-ups, but didn’t offer any specifics on how this will be done, nor what sort of range and performance figures might be the end result. It did mention its next-generation hydrogen fuel cell car, though. Hyundai has been at the forefront of hydrogen car development, and has promised a new H2-powered car, which will boast 163hp from its electric motor and a claimed 800km range on one tank of hydrogen, figures that would be class-leading. The hydrogen fuel cell future is still rather murky, though, not least because of the expense of installing a fuelling network, and because of concerns over the environmental impact of much current industrial hydrogen production.

While it looks to the future, Hyundai is also having to deal with an unpleasant present. The company’s sales have fallen sharply in the key Chinese market, partially because of bad press in China surrounding South Korea’s conduct in the current stand-off between North Korea and the US. Chinese consumers and officials are known to be angry at Korea for employing an American anti-missile system, which is seen as counter to Chinese wishes, and there has been a distinct backlash against South Korean products. Hyundai has been hit bad enough for its second quarter profit to have halved earlier this year, and it’s expecting a similarly poor performance as 2017 grinds to a close.

“The challenging business environment is expected to persist in the second half because of negative external factors such as a slowdown in US demand and China’s Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – the US’s anti-missile system) issue,” Hyundai chief financial officer Choi Byung-chul said at an earnings conference call. Hyundai sales have also slipped back in the US, mostly thanks to an ageing saloon line-up and a lack of bigger SUVs and pickups. The South Korean government has begun offering cheap loans to automotive component suppliers affected by the crisis both in politics and at Hyundai.