Hyundai has made a lot of the running in green cars in the last few years. It has been catching up with Toyota in hybrids, and Nissan and Renault in electrics, and in some areas, it has been nosing ahead. One of those areas is efficiency, with Hyundai apparently being capable of squeezing more miles out of each kWh of battery capacity than its main rivals.
At the heart of Hyundai’s electrification campaign has been the Ioniq, available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric versions that go head to head with the Toyota Prius and the Nissan Leaf. Now the company has decided to set up a separate marque for its electric vehicles and it hasn’t had to look far for a new brand name. In future, Ioniq will be the name of a whole range of battery cars, not just one model.
Hyundai already has direct experience of this process. Genesis, once the top-of-the-range Hyundai model, has been a separate range of luxury cars since it was spun off in 2015, and several other manufacturers have taken a model name and turned it into a fully-fledged brand too.
The oldest example is probably Land Rover, which started off as a single specialised model in the Rover range, the original version of what later became the Defender. Now there are so many different Land Rover models it is difficult to keep up – and Land Rover has outlived Rover itself, which has long-since withered away.
Another case is the Mini. Like the Princess, the Maestro and the Montego, the Mini was orphaned off to fend for itself in a marque-free no man’s land during the BL and Rover Group years. Of those cars, it was only the Mini that had the strong identity to succeed as a brand in its own right, a process that was completed under BMW with the creation of a whole range of different shapes and sizes of Mini models.
More recently, Citroën took the name of its most famous model, the legendary DS, and budded off DS Automobiles as a separate luxury brand. One difference compared with the case of Ioniq is that Citroën delved deep into its back catalogue for a model name that could be turned into a standalone brand, rather than using a current model.
There doesn’t seem to be a direct precedent for the specific case of spinning off an existing model name as a purely electric brand, but Volvo comes closest with Polestar, a designation previously used for the sportiest versions of its mainstream cars, a smaller-scale version of what Mercedes-Benz and BMW have done with their AMG and M models.
Since we’ve mentioned BMW, it’s worth saying that the Bavarians provide a counter-example to what Hyundai is doing. BMW entered the electric car market with the technology-packed i3 and i8, and it looked as though the i line might be developed separately from the core BMW range. Now, the company is going in the opposite direction by integrating the electric technology into its mainstream models.
And there are other examples of this, too. The Nissan Leaf is synonymous with electric power, while the Toyota Prius is a byword for hybrids. On the face of it, either would provide a more obvious basis for conversion into a full-blown separate brand for electrified vehicles than Hyundai’s Ioniq, but so far, neither firm has taken this path.
One further question remains: what will happen to today’s Hyundai Ioniq after it has donated its name to the company’s new electric brand? It’s hard to believe that they will actually try to sell a car called the Ioniq Ioniq, although there’s even a precedent, of sorts, for that in the form of New York, New York, which, as the song had it, was so good they named it twice. A Hyundai spokesperson told Eco Car that the current Ioniq hatchback will come to the end of its life roughly around the same time that the Ioniq 5 goes on sale.
What the cars are called is going to matter far less than whether they are any good or not. Unpromising, even tainted brands like Skoda has thrived because of strong products, while respected brands have been trashed when applied to the wrong cars. As the British industry discovered, you can’t turn an austere Austin or a tatty Tata into a Rover just by sticking a posh badge on it. Ioniq will surely be no different – it will stand or fall on the quality of its cars.