If you aren't winning, maybe change how the game is scored.
Hyundai is not afraid to try something different. The company's new Ioniq vehicle is the first that will be offered with three radically different powertrains: as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and an all-electric vehicle. Sure, Honda has a similar plan with its Clarity, but the Ioniq family eschews the hydrogen fuel cell part of that equation in favor of the three more popular electric drive technologies. As it start to market the Ioniq, Hyundai is going to do something different, too.
In setting the hybrid Ioniq against its competitors, Hyundai is playing a familiar game: talk up overall fuel economy. This is because the Ioniq wins that competition. Well, at least one trim level of the Ioniq, the Ioniq Blue, gets 58 miles per gallon, which is the most of any non-plug-in vehicle in the US. That means it beats out the most efficient new Prius by two mpg, and "58 > 56" is an easy thing for buyers to understand. So far, so good, right?
The PHEV won't be coming to market until later in the year, but the EV is arriving shortly, which means that Hyundai has to find a way to sell it. The company came up with a clever sales tool aimed at Millennials with its easy-peasy Ioniq Unlimited subscription model it will use in California (at first - more markets will be coming in the future, said Mike O'Brien, vice president of corporate, product and digital planning for Hyundai Motor America, said at the Washington Auto Show this week) but in order to get people interested in the first place, Hyundai needs something it can broadcast in bright lights. The trouble is, the Ioniq EV simply doesn't win in one very important metric we've long used to compare EVs.
O'Brien said that the top number that comes up in Internet searches for electric vehicles is overall range. This isn't a big surprise, since questions about range are often top-of-mind for many potential EV buyers. Limited range is also something that EV critics are quick to point out, despite the fact that very few people would ever be left stranded with the "typical" 100-mile EVs, to say nothing about the new crop of 200-mile vehicles. Hyundai will soon be playing in those waters, but for now, the Ioniq's 124 miles can't compete with the 238-mile Chevy Bolt on range.
Instead, O'Brien said we should be looking at the Ioniq Electric's MPGe number, which is an impressive 136 (combined). That makes it not only the most efficient midsize vehicle, but also the most efficient EV around. Compare, for example, the Chevy Bolt at 119 MPGe, the Nissan Leaf at 112 MPGe, and the Tesla Model S P100D at 98 MPGe. O'Brien's point - which, admittedly, is hard to argue with - is that a 124-mile range is good enough for 90+ percent of American drivers, and so if the car can do what you want it to do, why not choose the most efficient vehicle and use the least possible amount of energy to go those miles? Overall range used to be an important metric when EVs were new, but now, "we need to move on," O'Brien said in DC. "I think we need to do a better job as manufacturers and industry and regulators to promote efficiency as the metric that's really going to be the game changer in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of personal mobility." After all, he said, this is how we measure the efficiency of gas cars: by their overall energy economy, and not by how far they can go on a full tank. If 58 > 56 makes sense, then so should 136 > 119.
Like I said, that's all hard to argue with, but it also goes against the EV narrative we're used to after six or seven years of modern plug-in vehicles. This isn't an impossible task, but it also won't be easy. Would you want to trade the range discussion for one based on MPGe?