[EDITORILAS]Race to design new enginesBeginning next year, Hyundai-Kia Motors will mass-produce hybrid vehicles, fueled by both electricity and gasoline. The company said it will produce 300,000 units every year by 2010, and will also begin mass-production of hydrogen fuel-propelled cars. To support this plan, the automakers built the Hyundai-Kia Eco-Technology Research Institute in Yongin, Gyeonggi province, to focus on environment friendly car technology. This is refreshing news at a time when labor unions at car manufacturers are on strike.
Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. introduced the world’s first hybrid car with Prius in 1997. Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. have since joined the market. Hybrid cars use a gasoline engine at high speed and an electrical motor for lower speeds. The hybrids get between 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) and 50 kilometers per liter (0.3 gallon) of fuel, and emit less exhaust fumes than regular cars. However, the high cost of these cars has meant that central government and local governing bodies have been the main customers.
Recent record-breaking rises in international oil prices have altered this landscape. Toyota’s Prius sold 9,850 units in August alone, double the figure from August of last year. Honda and Ford also saw their hybrid car sales increase by up to threefold. Hybrid cars now account for only 1.6 percent of the market but industry analysts estimate the figure will hover around 10 percent by 2010. A recent survey showed one third of American consumers are considering buying hybrid cars.
The automobile world expects the future of the industry to be hydrogen-powered cars. Hybrid cars can therefore be seen as a step toward these fuel-cell cars. Until now, the term “price competitiveness” has been the keyword in the global automobile market but it will now be replaced by the word “technology.” Unless Korea leads the competition and obtains the necessary technology for hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles, there is no guarantee of a bright future for our automobile industry. The industry used to be considered one of simple manufacturing; it is now becoming a complex field combining electrical engineering, chemistry and physics. That renders Hyundai-Kia’s blueprints for hybrid and hydrogen-powered cars that much more important. With significant government support, we expect those companies to repeat the success of our semiconductor and cell phone manufacturers.