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PHOTO CAPTION: 2011 Kia K5 Hybrid

Korean Carmakers Lead with Lithium-Ion Hybrids

Hyundai and Kia's lithium-polmer batteries have 63 percent higher power density and is 25 percent lighter than conventional hybrid batteries.

Published: 05-May-2011

I have long advocated the possibility of using lithium-ion batteries for conventional hybrid electric vehicles. In a Seeking Alpha article published on August 12, 2010, for instance, I doubted that recent efforts in that direction by Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC) “will be enough to prevent Hyundai (HYMLF.PK) from leapfrogging them in the hybrid electric car market." In addition, I also predicted that Toyota and Honda would nevertheless rethink their business strategy so as to become more aggressive in terms of using this type of advanced energy storage systems in their next different models.

In retrospect, I was essentially correct in my presumptions. First, Hyundai does seem to be on track to displacing Toyota and Honda from one of the most dynamic and praised segments of the automotive market nowadays. Moreover, the South Korean motor giant has come up with a surprise: It has brought along Kia (KIMTF.PK), an affiliate of the Hyundai Motor Group, something not in anyone´s head at the time.

As a recent report indicates, beginning this week both carmakers will be receiving orders for their first gasoline-hybrid electric vehicles that are able to operate using only electricity at low speeds with Li-ion batteries. The new Li-ion polymer battery pack utilized in the Sonata and K5 hybrids “has 63 percent higher power density and is 25 percent lighter than conventional batteries used in hybrid electric vehicles," which “puts their fuel economy at 21 kilometers per liter” (49.4 MPG). This is indeed outstanding, considering that last year not too many would have thought that Hyundai´s Sonata hybrid could get so close to Toyota´s Prius or even beat Honda´s Insight in fuel efficiency.

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