LOS ANGELES -- Kia Motors Corp., which is preparing to take on the Toyota Prius with a rugged "hybrid utility vehicle" called the Niro, conceived its vehicle to appeal to Americans, the Korean automaker's design chief said last week.
"Our focus was that this car should fit here," Peter Schreyer told Automotive News at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Last week, Kia released the first design sketches of the Niro, which shares a name with a concept Kia unveiled in 2013 at the Frankfurt auto show. It is part of Kia's plan to spend $10 billion through 2020 to build a full eco-friendly lineup, including electric vehicles and a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
That concept was a design sketch for a B-segment crossover now in development, Schreyer said, but Kia decided to use the Niro name for its hybrid because "everybody was so excited about the name that they wanted to use it right away."
The Niro will be built at Kia's plant in Hwaseong, South Korea, and go on sale in the second half of 2016, followed by a plug-in hybrid, Kia said.
The Niro will have a 1.6-liter gasoline engine paired with a 32-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.56 kilowatt-hour lithium polymer battery pack.
Kia wants to bring some panache to the hybrid marketplace, said Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning at Kia Motors America.
"Up until now, hybrids have been fairly cerebral: It's about fuel economy and the environment," Hedrick said in an interview. "Why don't we just make a really cool car that has a lot of utility and versatility and also just happens to be a hybrid? There's no reason that a green car needs to look unusual."