Hyundai Motor's hybrid research team chief reportedly has requested the government subsidise manufacturers and buyers of the fuel-saving vehicles, because Korean companies are believed to be about 10 years behind Japanese makers.

According to the Korea Times, Kim Min-jin, senior vice president of Hyundai, said that the hybrid cars will become a market standard after 2010 and financial support from the government is desperately needed for Korean automakers to commercialise the vehicles in time.

"We cannot make a profit in hybrid cars because imported parts, such as batteries, are too expensive,'' Kim said in an e-mail interview with the Korea Times. "Cost is the largest obstacle to their commercialisation.''

According to the report, Kim said mid-sized hybrid sedans cost $US3,000 to $4,000 more than standard cars but Korean makers are unable to meet the price range since the government does not provide subsidies to either the car makers or consumers.

The Japanese government supports about a half of the additional cost in manufacturing hybrid cars, Kim reportedly said, while in the United States, the federal government offers buyers up to a $3,400 tax deduction on a hybrid.

The paper noted that Hyundai introduced its first hybrid car, the Click Hybrid, in 2004, seven years after Toyota began to sell the Prius in Japan. Only 780 were given to various government agencies such as the ministry of environment, and so far, there is no plan for commercial sales.

Kim told the Korea Times that he expected other automakers would enter the hybrid market and that sales would "explode" after 2010.