By Kwon Mee-yoo
Fuel-efficient and environment-friendly hybrid cars are expected to be more readily available for Korean drivers next year.
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, announced last Thursday that it will begin selling its fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle ``Prius'' in 2009.
First introduced in Japan in 1997, the ``Prius'' is the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle and has sold more than 940,000 units worldwide.
As a leading manufacturer of hybrids, Toyota will also introduce the ``Camry Hybrid,'' which is currently on sale in the United States.
Another Japanese automaker Honda already introduced its ``Civic Hybrid'' on the Korean market last year and will release a smaller hybrid car by 2009.
After Toyota's announcement, Hyundai Motor said it will mass-produce hybrid cars in Korea next year, Friday.
Chung Mong-koo, chairman of Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, unveiled the company's plan during President Lee Myung-bak's visit to a Kia Motors factory in the southwestern city of Gwangju.
Korea's leading automaker has produced some 2,800 hybrid prototypes since 2004, not for mass-consumption but for government use only ― the hybrid versions its compact ``Click'' and ``Verna'' models and Kia's ``Pride'' have been provided to government agencies.
Hyundai plans to release a hybrid model of its ``Avante'' ― sold as ``Elantra'' worldwide ― next year. This will be its first mass-produced hybrid.
According to the automaker, the ``Avante Hybrid'' is based on the low pollution liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
Hyundai Motor plans to release this new hybrid in the latter half of 2009. Then the motor company will expand its hybrid lineup to include sedans such as the ``Sonata'' by 2010.
Kia Motors, an affiliate of Hyundai Motor, is also researching a hybrid version of the ``Mohave,'' a large sport utility vehicle (SUV), and ``Lotze,'' a mid-size car. Kia plans to market the hybrid vehicles by 2010.
Chung also announced that Hyundai-Kia Group plans to mass-produce hydrogen fuel cell cars by 2012. The automaker first developed fuel cell vehicles in 2000 but the technology is still in its infancy.
Hybrid cars use a rechargeable energy storage system to enhance fuel efficiency. These vehicles reuse energy spent while braking. The system converts the kinetic energy of the car into electrical energy and stores it in a battery.
Some 390,125 hybrid cars were sold worldwide in 2006 and 517,911 in 2007. The automobile industry expects sales to reach 750,000 this year. According to AllianceBernstein, 72 percent of all cars worldwide and 85 percent of new models will be hybrids in 2030.