Ioniq is a solid EV, free juice in­cluded

Hyundai hopes to spark de­mand by cov­er­ing the elec­tric­ity costs on leases of the plug-in hatch­back

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Charles Flem­ing

I have made no se­cret of my af­fec­tion for electric cars.

Se­duced by their smooth, strong, silent mo­tors, and the prom­ise of never visit­ing a gas sta­tion again, the bat­tery electric vehicles rep­re­sent a real prom­ise for a fu­ture of petroleum­free motoring.

But not ev­ery­one agrees with me. De­spite in­creas­ing numbers of choices, plug-in electric cars still rep­re­sent be­low 1% of an­nual U.S. car sales. Through May of this year, American car buy­ers pur­chased only 35,406 pure electric vehicles out of 6.9 mil­lion vehicles sold, ac­cord­ing to the Electric Drive Trans­porta­tion Assn.

To at­tract re­luc­tant driv­ers to the elec­tri­fied world, Hyundai has a new pol­icy: Lease a plug-in Ioniq, and they’ll pay for the juice re­quired to run it. The com­pany es­ti­mates that a com­muter driv­ing 30 miles a day would see his lease rate drop by $41.40 a month.

The gam­bit is sim­i­lar to one used by com­pa­nies sell­ing or leas­ing hy­dro­gen fuel cell cars — such as Toy­ota’s Mi­rai, Honda’s Clar­ity or Kia’s Tuc­son, all of which come with a free fuel al­lowance.

That makes sense for fuel cell cars, be­cause re­tail hy­dro­gen fuel sta­tions are few and far be­tween, and the fuel it­self is pricey.

But elec­tric­ity isn’t ex­pen­sive, or hard to find. So, will cost-free charg­ing drive any­one

into an Ioniq?

The ques­tion would be im­ma­te­rial if the Ioniq weren’t such a good car.

Hyundai’s only pure electric car — the com­pany does sell plug-in hy­brid ver­sions of other mod­els — is a sturdy, solid hatch­back.

Its electric mo­tor scoots the car around town and ac­cel­er­ates com­fort­ably on the free­way. It does so free of vi­bra­tion and in near si­lence; Hyundai engi­neers have gone to great lengths to dampen the sound in­side the cabin.

The Ioniq pro­duces lit­tle wind noise and not too much tire noise, which height­ens the plea­sure of us­ing the phone or lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. (The phone charger is wire­less, though it doesn’t adapt to iPhones.)

Vis­i­bil­ity is fair, marred some­what by the hor­i­zon­tally split rear win­dow glass.

The sim­ple dash and well-de­signed cock­pit make ev­ery­thing easy to see and easy to reach. The seats are de­signed for ease of egress and ingress and are com­fort­able enough for a long-dis­tance drive.

The Ioniq Electric is sold or leased in two trim lines, the base model and the Lim­ited. Those re­tail for $29,500 and $32,500, re­spec­tively, be­fore taxes and de­liv­ery charges. They are avail­able for lease at $275 a month for the base model, $305 a month for the Lim­ited, and $365 with the Un­lim­ited Pack­age. (Those numbers don’t in­clude the elec­tric­ity “re­im­burse­ment” Hyundai prom­ises, by which the com­pany tracks the num­ber of miles the car has been driven, cal­cu­lates the cost of the elec­tric­ity needed to drive that dis­tance and au­to­mat­i­cally deducts that amount from the next lease pay­ment.)

The electric’s Lim­ited trim line, which I drove for a week, in­cluded heated front seats, leather up­hol­stery, blind-spot de­tec­tion, power driver’s seat and power side mir­rors.

It also in­cluded the Un­lim­ited Pack­age, a $3,500 up­grade, which in­cluded a sun­roof, “smart” cruise con­trol, au­to­matic brak­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, the wire­less phone charger and an im­proved sound sys­tem.

I re­ally liked it, and could hap­pily have hopped on the high­way and headed for Vegas.

But I wouldn’t have got­ten there. The Ioniq’s bat­tery-only range is only 124 miles.

For some prospec­tive buy­ers, that will be a deal­breaker. They may love the car. They may like the $275a-month lease rate and the prom­ise of hav­ing their charg­ing costs re­im­bursed.

They may long to qual­ify for the state and fed­eral re­bates that go to EV buy­ers — not to men­tion the car­pool lane ac­cess they get as zero emission vehicles.

They may be at­tracted by the idea that electric vehicles, hav­ing very few mov­ing parts, need al­most no main­te­nance.

They may be warmed by the thought that they’re sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, or what’s left of it. They may boast about the es­ti­mated 136 miles per gal­lon equiv­a­lent fuel econ­omy they’ll get in the car, per the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

But many will quail at the range. Though it’s higher than the 89 miles the new Honda Clar­ity Electric will be able to go when it be­comes avail­able this sum­mer, they'll won­der why the Ioniq can’t go as far on a sin­gle charge as the Chevy Bolt EV (238 miles) or a Tesla Model S (210 to 315, depend­ing on bat­tery size).

They may over­look the fact that the Ioniq’s rel­a­tively smaller bat­tery means a rel­a­tively shorter recharge time. Hyundai said a full recharge will take four hours on a 240-volt sys­tem. My ex­pe­ri­ence: I plugged in overnight on a 120-volt sys­tem and had an es­ti­mated 111 miles range when I started it up in the morn­ing.

That might not be enough, even though very few Amer­i­cans ever drive more than that in a day. Com­muters typ­i­cally drive less than a third of that, ac­cord­ing to sources like the Electric Drive Trans­porta­tion Assn.

Jes­sica Caldwell, an­a­lyst for Ed­, said “ease of use” and a mind­set change would ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine whether peo­ple make the switch from gas to electric.

“The Bolt EV and the Kia Niro and the Hyundai Ioniq are push­ing the numbers, and they’ll go up with the ar­rival of the Tesla Model 3, but this is still a tough sell," she said. “You’re ask­ing peo­ple to make a real life­style change.”

Hyundai hasn’t been de­liv­er­ing the Ioniq Electric long enough to show whether cus­tomers are re­spond­ing, and the com­pany doesn’t break out sales numbers by model.

So we know they sold 1,648 Ioniqs through the end of April — com­pared with 70,548 Elantras and 54,163 Sonatas — but not how many of those were the plugin electric mod­els.

So far, the com­pany said, only 100 Ioniq bat­tery electric vehicles have been de­liv­ered, and the car is avail­able only in Cal­i­for­nia.

Re­sis­tance to the Ioniq may have less to do with fuel costs and in­fra­struc­ture than with the car’s styling.

It's dull. It doesn’t look in­spired. It’s not unattrac­tive, and it doesn't scream “look at me!” like the gate­mouthed Mi­rai. But it may be too plain to at­tract at­ten­tion at all.

There may also be some re­sis­tance to the name. Kia and its au­to­mo­tive sib­ling Hyundai seem to spe­cial­ize in quirky car chris­ten­ing.

What is an Ioniq, any­way? What’s a Cadenza? Az­era? It sounds like a skin con­di­tion, or the med­i­ca­tions pre­scribed to cure it. Ask your doc­tor about … Elantra.

That’s too bad, be­cause a lot of driv­ers, even those with longer com­mutes, could get very com­fort­able with a car like this.

Drive to work, drive home, plug in, recharge, and start over — and watch your lease pay­ment go down based on Hyundai’s cal­cu­la­tion of how many miles you drove and how much elec­tric­ity you must have used.

That’s a for­mula for suc­cess­ful, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly Cal­i­for­nia cruis­ing.

Hyundai North Amer­ica

THE IONIQ Electric is sold or leased in two trim lines, the base model and Lim­ited. The car is avail­able only in Cal­i­for­nia. Bat­tery-only range is just 124 miles, which could be a deal breaker for some driv­ers.

Hyundai North Amer­ica

THE HYUNDAI Ioniq’s electric mo­tor scoots the car around town and ac­cel­er­ates com­fort­ably on the free­way. It does so free of vi­bra­tion and in near si­lence.

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