Gas prices are relatively low right now, but history dictates that they probably will not stay this affordable forever. And no matter how little drivers are paying at the pump, there are environmental and economic issues to be concerned about. Emissions from gasoline use are damaging to the environment and fossil fuels are in limited supply.

While current demand may not be particularly high, there is still a need for auto manufacturers to develop vehicles that run either entirely or partially on electricity. Toyota has long held the title for offering the best selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius. However, Hyundai-Kia aims to become a major contender in the market by promising to have 26 electric and hybrid models on the market by

Hyundai-Kia's Catch-Up Plan

Lee Ki-Sang was appointed to lead Hyundai Motor Group's eco-car powertrain division in 2005, but by then, Toyota Motor Corp. had already gained an eight-year lead in creating hybrid vehicles. And after deciding to enter the electric/hybrid market, it took Hyundai nearly two years to assemble a relevant team. Because of this, the company did not launch its first gasoline-electric drivetrain vehicle, the Sonata Hybrid, until 2010.

Being so far behind, Hyundai-Kia has no plans to overtake Toyota's top spot by 2020, but merely to be in second place, ahead of all other automakers. While even claiming the number two spot may seem like a very ambitious undertaking, such a move may actually be necessary for the company. It is predicted that emissions rules will continue to get stricter in the coming years, so all car makers may eventually need to efficiently harness the power of electricity in order to stay viable.

If planning to offer 26 electric and hybrid options seems like a lofty goal, it should be remembered that Hyundai-Kia is facing some pretty tough odds if they even want to get close to Toyota in this market. Last year, Hyundai sold 42,900 hybrids and plug-ins worldwide. Kia sold just 18,735 hybrid models and only managed to move 8,450 units of its Soul EV.

On the other hand, Toyota sold a total of 1.2 million hybrids and plug-in hybrids in 2015.

It would be an understatement to declare that Hyundai-Kia has a long road and a lot of work ahead of them. Karl Brauer, senior director of automotive industry insights at Kelley Blue Book has some advice to offer on how the company might achieve its lofty goal:

"Hyundai-Kia will have to establish a cost-effective supply chain for batteries and motors, and it will need vehicle designs that allow for the easy integration of electric powertrains."

Concerning production issues, Lee Ki-Sang remains optimistic. He is quick to point out the fact that only a minimum of variants could cover all of their eco-car needs:

"For example, all our electric motors have the same diameter. The power output is different, but we can just adjust the width of the core winding. Or for the motor controller, we have standardized it to use the same printed circuit boards."

And to launch into their concerted efforts to gain ground in the hybrid/electric vehicle market, Hyundai has started strong with their "Ioniq Project," which aims to take on the Prius.

What this Means for Consumers

It is unlikely that Hyundai-Kia will be the only company to get very competitive in the hybrid/electric category. Other manufacturers will feel the pressure to keep up in producing affordable and desirable vehicles that produce fewer emissions. And as automakers find ways to streamline production and reduce costs, customers can reasonably expect hybrid and electric vehicles to come down in price.

This is good news for car buyers who either care about leaving a modest carbon footprint or want to save money on fuel. And speaking of the latter, if gas prices start to soar again, even the most diehard truck-lovers and SUV enthusiasts may have to rethink their allegiances. In the end, everyone may want to consider going "green" if it means that there is the potential to significantly save some "green."

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