- Associated Press - Thursday, September 9, 2010

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - Hyundai Motor unveiled its first electric car Thursday _ the BlueOn _ as it moves to catch up with Japanese rivals that have jumped ahead in the field.

Hyundai showed off the car on the grounds of Seoul’s hillside Blue House, the office and residence of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took it for a spin while Cabinet ministers, officials and electric-vehicle industry representatives looked on.

South Korea’s biggest automaker said that it invested about 40 billion won ($34.3 million) over one year to create the vehicle, which is based on the automaker’s small i10 hatchback.

Hyundai, which hailed the small car as South Korea’s first full-speed electric vehicle, said that it plans to deliver 30 of them on a test basis to various South Korean government organizations by October and plans to manufacture 2,500 by the end of 2012.

“We are proud to introduce the world to BlueOn, which was fully developed in Korea and displays Hyundai’s latest technological advancements,” Lee Hyun-Soon, vice chairman at the automaker’s research and development center, said in a release.

“Consumers’ interests and demand for eco-friendly cars are rising and securing such advanced technology is critical in becoming an industry leader,” he said.

Hyundai has in recent years won strong reviews for quality and design as it increased market share and brand recognition worldwide, but Japanese rivals have pushed ahead in electric vehicles.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. already manufactures the iMiEV electric car, while Nissan Motor Co. plans to mass produce its Leaf electric vehicle during this fiscal year.

The 2,500 cars Hyundai plans to produce will include retail sales in South Korea, said Song Meeyoung, a company spokeswoman. She could not say exactly when consumer sales would begin.

As for overseas sales, she said it was “too early too discuss potential export markets at the moment.”

The BlueOn has a maximum speed of 130 kph (80.6 mph), can accelerate to 100 kph in 13.1 seconds and travel as much as 140 kilometers on a single charge of its lithium-ion polymer battery, Hyundai said.

The automaker boasted that it carried out “hundreds of thousands of kilometers worth of endurance testing to secure safety.”

The company also said the car makes an artificial engine sound as a safety feature for warning pedestrians because electric vehicles make little or no sound at low speeds.

The name BlueOn was derived from its Blue Drive strategy of “eco-friendly products and technologies” and the word “on” from “switch on.”

Hyundai’s stock price fell 0.7 percent Thursday to close at 151,000 won. Hyundai shares tripled in value in 2009.

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