Hyundai-Kia is a bit of a sleeping giant. Its two car brands still scarcely register with a lot of European car-buyers but the Korean combine is actually the fifth-largest automotive group in the world. Kia and Hyundai can now match the mainstream models from the European and Japanese manufacturers but they’ve tended to lag behind in technologies like hybrids and diesels. That’s about to change.
The group has said that it will invest the best part of £2 billion in order to make itself one of the four top manufacturers of low-emission vehicles by 2012. Among the technologies being pushed hard by the Koreans are petrol and diesel hybrids, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells; in fact the company expects to be able to build fuel cell vehicles on standard production lines by 2015.
Of more immediate relevance is Kia’s so-called ISG (Idle Stop&Go) system which shuts down a car’s engine when it is at rest and automatically restarts it when it is put into gear. Unfortunately these haven’t made it to the UK yet although Kia does have a very good diesel engine which it fits to the cee’d, an impressive achievement given that the company, like other Asian manufacturers, has a far shorter history in diesel than its European counterparts.
The last time Kia announced an eco-car initiative, the wacky "wind-assisted" Aero-Soul, it turned out to be an April Fool joke, but this latest announcement deserves to be taken seriously; the Koreans have shown themselves ready to invest a lot of time and effort in order to make their cars competitive. When they were told their cars weren’t European enough, they designed and developed a car in and for Europe - the cee’d - and built an enormous factory in Europe in order to manufacture it. When they were told their cars were good but lacked a certain dash, they went and hired one of Audi’s top designers and brought us the funky Soul.
There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that they are capable of making similar big strides with their eco catch-up exercise.