Hyundai has entered the burgeoning hybrid market with a world first – an LPG-electric hybrid vehicle. The Elantra LPI Hybrid combines a four cylinder 1.6 LPI “Gamma” engine and 15kW electric motor to deliver fuel economy of 42mpg and CO2 emissions of just 99grams/km. Hyundai believes the combination of hybrid power and low-cost fuel will enable the Elantra LPI to pay its way faster than any other hybrid on the market.

While the economy isn’t quite as spectacular as the third-generation Toyota Prius’ 50mpg, Hyundai estimates the savings in fuel costs will make a huge difference. In Korea, LPG is widely popular as a transportation fuel and costs about half the price of petrol. On that basis, compared to a conventional petrol-powered 1.6 liter Elantra, the LPI Hybrid would save a driver about USD$1100 a year, assuming an average annual mileage of 12,500.

Performance is fairly reasonable, too. The 1.6 LPI engine produces 84kW and, combined with the 15kW electric motor, the Elantra LPI HEV puts out a combined maximum of 99kW. Acceleration from zero to 60mph is clocked at 11.7 seconds, bettering the Honda Civic Hybrid by about 2 seconds.

Hyundai have included a number of other fuel efficiency features. An “Auto-Stop” function will automatically switch off the ignition at idle, provided the battery is more than 30% charged. An “Eco Guide” display is designed to help coach drivers into more economical driving habits. And a driver-selectable “Eco-Drive” gear reduces fluctuations in torque, increasing electric motor assist and charge regeneration when the brakes are applied.

The fifth-largest car company in the world, Hyundai is certainly taking its entry into the hybrid market seriously, investing USD$198 million over a 43-month development period on the Elantra LPI Hybrid. The car will initially only be available in Korea, at an entry level price of 20.5 million won (USD$16,180), and Hyundai expects to sell 7,500 units this year and 15,000 in 2010. There are no immediate plans for export, but Hyundai are undertaking feasibility studies in markets where good LPG refueling infrastructures exist.