Kia greenlights Niro in green-car rush
LOS ANGELES -- Kia Motors Corp. plans to take on the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt with a “hybrid utility vehicle” called the Niro, the Korean automaker said Monday, shedding light on its longstanding plans for a dedicated hybrid family.
Kia said it has engineered a new compact platform for the Niro, which is based on a rugged, high-riding concept from the 2013 Frankfurt auto show. Manufactured at Kia’s assembly plant in Hwaseong, South Korea, the Niro will go on sale in the second half of 2016, followed by a plug-in hybrid.
“Our new model is designed to offer buyers everything they could want from a compact SUV in terms of practicality and styling, while providing the typically low running costs associated with a dedicated hybrid powertrain,” Kia CEO Hyoung-Keun Lee said in a statement.
Kia’s sibling brand, Hyundai, is expected to introduce a stand-alone hybrid model in 2016. Recent spy shots suggest Hyundai’s model is a small liftback sedan akin to the Volt.
Kia said the Niro will be powered by a 1.6-liter gasoline engine combined with a 32-kilowatt electric motor. It will send power to the wheels through a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission and store energy in a 1.56 kilowatt-hour lithium-polymer battery pack.
The launch of the Niro is part of Kia’s plan to spend $10 billion through 2020 building a full lineup of eco-friendly cars -- including electric vehicles and a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle slated for launch by 2020.
“We don’t believe that there is any one ‘silver bullet’ that can satisfy the demand for low emission technology within the car industry,” Ki-Sang Lee, a senior vice president at Kia’s global r&d center, said in a statement today. “We foresee a wide range of eco-friendly powertrains co-existing for an extended period of time.”
Kia also said Monday that hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants of the Optima sedan will go on sale in 2016, as expected. They will use almost identical powertrains to the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid.
Hyundai’s hybrid sedan, which starts at $26,835 with shipping, is rated at 40 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. The plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata, which starts at $35,435 with shipping, can travel 27 miles on electric power alone.
Kia’s hybrid Optima will arrive in showrooms in the first half of 2016, followed later in the year by the plug-in hybrid.
Kia also said it will invest $2 billion by 2018 in automated driving, with a goal of selling semiautonomous cars by 2020 and fully self-driving cars by 2030. Other companies, including Google and Nissan, are trying to commercialize fully self-driving cars by 2020.
Kia’s first step will be offering features such as Traffic Jam Assist and Highway Driving Assist that are already available in high-end cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S class and the Tesla Model S.
“Fully autonomous vehicles are still some way off,” Tae-Won Lim, vice president of Hyundai Motor Group’s advanced r&d group, said in a statement. “A great deal of research and rigorous product testing will need to be carried out to make the ‘self-driving car’ a reality.”
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