Hyundai's tasty Blue Will concept car turned up at the Detroit NAIAS this week for its first showing on American soil. We got to take a close-up look at the Korean company's blue-sky plug-in hybrid and were impressed by some of the details - headlamp surrounds made from recycled PET bottles, a full undertray for sleek aeros, a glass roof impregnated with solar cells, drive-by-wire steering column and a thermal generator to turn waste heat from the combustion engine into electricity.
The Blue Will is Hyundai's first plug-in hybrid concept - it was debuted last March, just before the company's LPG hybrid, the LPI Elantra, hit the auto shows. So it's not at the cutting edge of what Hyundai's up to, but it's our first chance to take an up-close and personal look at this beast.
The Blue Will is a pukka hybrid as opposed to an extended-range electric - the wheels are driven by twin powertrains which can operate independently or together depending on conditions. The petrol engine is a 152-horsepower, 1.6-liter all-aluminium jobbie that goes through a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. The electric motor makes 100kW (about 134hp) and pwers the wheels directly.
With a full charge to its Li-Polymer battery pack, the Blue Will is said to be able to achieve between 20-40 miles on electric drive alone. Fuel economy figures aren't bad - around 50-55mpg if you run it as a pure hybrid, and closer to 106mpg if the cycle is undertaken with the car in plug-in hybrid mode, using primarily electric until the hybrid powertrain is needed.
On top of regenerative braking and the photovoltaic roof panel, the Blue Will has a thermal generator built into the exhaust manifold, so some of the exhaust heat can be recaptured as energy for the battery.
The cabin is ultra-futuristic and digital - in particular, the steering wheel stands out as more of a jet pilot console than a traditional steering column. That's made possible by the fact that the steering system is drive-by-wire - a computer interprets the steering wheel inputs from the driver and the actual steering control is actuated by motors - kind of like power steering without any actual physical connection to the wheels.
Being an electric/CVT motor hybrid, the transmission is a simple auto - Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive and Low ratios - leaving the focus of the cockpit as the small dash, the Bluetooth-enabled entertainment system and the "Eco-Coach" - a panel that constantly updates the driver on how green their choices with the pedals are.
At the end of the day, the Blue Will showcases a few interesting features (thermal generator, solar roof panel, steer-by-wire) that seem unlikely to make it through to production. The hybrid powertrain looks like a goer, and we'll probably see it on real-world models within the next two years - but beyond that, the Blue Will looks like it'll stay in concept land.