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Future models - Kia - Niro

Kia lifts lid on Niro

Electric dreams: Kia's long-awaited compact SUV – the Niro – is built on a dedicated hybrid platform, but will likely be made available with regular internal combustion engines.

More hybrids from Kia, starting with Niro compact SUV, but not for Australia


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17 Nov 2015

KIA has announced that its first sub-compact SUV will take the Niro moniker and will be built on a new dedicated hybrid platform – but don't expect to see the fuel-miser versions in Australian showrooms.

The South Korean car-maker has overnight revealed plans to increase its eco-car line-up from four to 11 models by 2020, starting with the Niro, which will be revealed in full in 2016.

As reported last week, a senior Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) executive told GoAuto the sub-compact crossover will arrive in 2017.

While Kia has announced that the Niro will be produced using the company's first “dedicated eco-car platform” and powered by a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, it is likely to also be offered with conventional internal combustion petrol and diesel engines, possibly with turbocharging.

KMAu general manager of media and communications Kevin Hepworth poured cold water on the idea of a line-up of hybrid cars in Australia for now, and added that there would need to be a shift in buyer behaviour to warrant the introduction of electrified models.

“We have no plans for hybrids or full electrics at this stage,” he told GoAuto.

“It is not in our business planning. When you look at the hybrid or electric market in Australia, you need to either earn an awful lot of money or you need to be a big player to justify carrying a car like that in your line-up.

“While we are working at around 30,000 units (per annum), it is very difficult to make a business plan for a car that is going to be a half or one per cent of your sales.

“Philosophically, we are right behind it. Do we believe this is the future? Yes it is. But something is going to have to change. It is either going to have to be a philosophical change amongst buyers, petrol prices needs to triple, or something along those lines to drive the mindset towards this sort of car.”

This sentiment echoes that of KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith who at last week's Optima launch told GoAuto that, in terms of hybrid variants of key models, “at the moment there is probably nothing that fits with the short-term strategy”.

Kia describes the Niro as a Hybrid Utility Vehicle, and has confirmed a drivetrain that consists of a 77kW/147Nm 1.6-litre Kappa petrol engine with a 1.56kWh lithium-polymer battery pack and a 32kW electric motor, matched with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Kia is targeting CO2 emissions figures below 90g/km for the hybrid Niro, but it has not revealed fuel economy or performance figures. A plug-in hybrid variant is also in the works.

The Niro's body will be made up of 50 per cent ultra-high-strength steel to help reduce fuel use and improve safety, and it is part of the car-maker's strategy to reduce the average weight of its models by five percent by 2020 compared with 2014 levels.

The high-strength platform will also contribute to lower noise, vibration and harshness levels. Kia will also fit the Niro with passive, active and pre-collision safety technology as it targets the “highest possible marks from independent safety test organisations around the world”.

Kia has released a pair of sketches of the Niro and a photograph of a heavily camouflaged development car, revealing that it will carry the familiar 'tiger-nose' grille and follow the design cues of its larger Sportage and Sorento siblings, as well as the concept of the same name that made its debut at the 2013 Frankfurt motor show. It has been penned by teams at Kia's Californian and Korean design centres.

When it eventually arrives in 2017, the Niro will take on rivals in the booming small-SUV space including the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai and Holden Trax.

Kia, sister company Hyundai and Japanese giant Toyota are the only three mainstream car-makers without an entrant in the busy segment, but all three have plans in place.

The Korean car-maker has also announced its plan to expand its green car line-up from four models to 11 by 2020, as it sets to become “a leader in the low emissions car market” within five years.

Kia's parent company Hyundai Motor Group has invested 11.3 trillion Korean wan ($A13.6b) into research and development of fuel-efficient tech that will include building new facilities and the creation of thousands of jobs.

Part of the plan is to improve the average fuel efficiency by 25 per cent over 2014 levels by 2020, as well as replacing seven out of its 10 current engine ranges with next-gen petrol and diesel engines. It is also planning to increase the number of turbocharged engines in its fleet.

Kia has also confirmed it will launch a production hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle by 2020 that will be five per cent more efficient, offer 10 per cent greater stack performance and be 15 per cent lighter than current fuel-cell stacks. The company is targeting a range of more than 800km from a single fill-up and a top speed of about 170km/h.

Kia's sister company Hyundai has already produced the ix35 Fuel Cell model that is on sale in some European countries and in California. The brand also has plans for its own dedicated mass-production FCEV by the end of the decade.

Kia’s Optima range will include hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions within a year in some markets, but Mr Hepworth said the fuel-sipping variants will not make it Down Under.

While he praised Kia's strategy to focus on hybrid models, Mr Hepworh said the company's Australian arm would continue to focus on mainstream vehicles.

“It is great to see KMC (Kia Motor Company) has a plan for it,” he said. “The determination to be a green leader in the next five years. And that may lead to incentives within the company to bring cars in as well, but that is in the future, not now.

“At the moment we are concentrating on mainstream (models) and getting ourselves into a position where we could possibly consider these cars.”

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