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Can Kia Pick Prius' Lock on Hybrid Market?

16 Février 2016 - Automotive News

Can Kia Pick Prius' Lock on Hybrid Market?

Many automakers have tried to lure customers away from the Toyota Prius hybrid, which outsells the Ford C-Max 7-to-1 in the U.S. and exhibited such dominance that archrival Honda pulled its Insight hybrid from the market to regroup.

Kia Motors Corp. thinks it can succeed where others have failed.

With the Niro, its first built-from-scratch hybrid, the Korean automaker hopes to replicate the formula that turned the chunky Soul hatchback into America's best-selling subcompact car: distinctive trucklike looks and the promise of utility. The hybrid, unveiled this week at the Chicago Auto Show, promises 4.7 L/100km in combined city and highway driving -- just shy of the Prius' benchmark of 4.7 L/100km.

The most important success factor for the Niro is a "design that doesn't shout "hybrid,'" said Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning at Kia Motors America. By delivering hybrid fuel economy in a crossover body, he said, "the Niro offers a uniquely alluring yet practical package that consumers haven't seen before."

Indeed, few automakers offer hybrid crossovers, as the vehicles' high-riding posture makes it difficult to deliver the fuel economy gains customers expect. If the Niro gets the promised 4.7 L/100km, it would handily beat the hybrid crossovers on the market today, including the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (7.1 L/100km) and Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid (7.6 L/100km).

Kia plans to disclose Niro pricing closer to the vehicle's arrival in U.S. dealerships in early 2017.

Built on a dedicated green-car platform shared with Hyundai, the Niro has the same wheelbase as the Prius, 106.3 inches, though Kia's hybrid is 1.6 inches wider and 7.2 inches shorter. Powered by a 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine paired with an electric motor, the Niro delivers 146 hp, compared with 121 hp for the Prius.

Power is a sore spot for Toyota, which has tried to mend a reputation for stodgy design and sluggish acceleration since it introduced the fourth-generation Prius. Toyota's Super Bowl ad this month depicted bank robbers in a bright red Prius leading police on a long-distance chase.

It was a sharp departure for Toyota, which had spotlighted the Prius' environmental credentials, but needed a new message in an era of low gasoline prices and proliferating green-car choices.

Last week, Kia also introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants of the Optima midsize sedan, which was redesigned in 2015.

The plug-in hybrid Optima, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with a 50-kilowatt electric motor, has a total output of 154 hp. The hybrid, pairing the same engine with a 38-kilowatt electric motor, has a total output of 193 hp.

Kia didn't release fuel economy numbers for the hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants, but the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which shares the same powertrain, promises 40 mpg city/44 highway. The Sonata Plug-in Hybrid promises 5.9 L/100km combined and 2.4 L/100km-e when running on electricity.

 

 

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