SEOUL Hyundai Motor Co, South Korea's top carmaker, on Wednesday launched its first hybrid car in the domestic market to satisfy a growing appetite for fuel-saving vehicles and to improve the image of the company's technology.
Hyundai, the world's No.5 carmaker along with affiliate Kia Motors Corp, started selling the Elantra LPI, a hybrid model of its popular compact sedan that uses liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and lithium ion polymer batteries.
"The LPI will show Hyundai has hybrid technology and help improve its image," said Kang Sang-min, an auto analyst at Tong Yang Securities.
The hybrid arrived at showrooms amid worries Hyundai could lose out if such cars gained in popularity in the United States, with Toyota Motors Corp and Honda Motor Co pushing the technology into the mainstream with low-priced gasoline-electric models.
Hyundai is due to launch its first gasoline-electric hybrid, a version of the flagship Sonata in the latter half of 2010.
The Elantra LPI can travel 17.8 kilometers on one liter of LPG or 38.5 kilometers for the price of one liter of gasoline in South Korea, Hyundai said.
The hybrid emits 99 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, meeting California's Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle standard, the company added.
Hyundai aims to sell 7,500 units of the hybrid this year in South Korea and to double the sales volume in 2010. It does not have immediate plans for exports.
Hyundai, which spent 250.8 billion won ($197.7 million) developing the car over more than 3- years, will sell the car for between 20.5 million and 23.2 million won.
(Reporting by Cheon Jong-woo; Editing by Chris Lewis)