Hyundai Ioniq

DETROIT — There’s no gold medal for the most fuel-efficient car. So, when Hyundai’s new Ioniq Hybrid and EV eco-vehicles took top-of-class in EPA ratings, the boss decided to make one.

The Ioniq Hybrid beat its archrival, the Toyota Prius, in the U.S. government’s combined mpg rankings, while the Ioniq Electric topped battery-powered rivals with its mpg-e ratings.

It was an Olympian performance, said Lee Ki-sang, senior vice president at Hyundai Motor Group’s Eco Technology Center. And he commissioned 500 gold medals to reward his team.

Dangling from red-white-and-blue ribbons, the lustrous hardware is inscribed, in English, with the declaration “WE ARE THE BEST” and “1st Ioniq.” Lee needed special permission from his wife to make the medals because he paid for them out of pocket. It was unclear whether they were real gold.

“We wanted the engineers to be proud of their achievement,” Lee said.

The Ioniq Hybrid and EV go on sale in the U.S. in April, he said.

The Ioniq Hybrid Blue, the special eco-trim model, gets 58 mpg combined, just edging the 56 combined of the Prius Eco. The standard Ioniq Hybrid gets 55 combined, again higher than the standard Prius’ 52.

The Ioniq Electric achieved a 136 mpg-e rating from the EPA.

Lee says a new medal race is brewing — this time over hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

There could be more gold in store for his engineers if Hyundai’s next-generation fuel cell crossover, due in 2018, beats the competition. He wants the South Korean entry to beat the system efficiency of the rival Toyota Mirai fuel cell and the range of the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell.

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