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Paris show: Kia confirms diesel-electric hybrid

New power: Kia is aiming to reduce fuel economy and emissions figures while boosting power by 15 to 20 per cent with its diesel-electric powertrain previewed in the Optima T-Hybrid.

Optima T-Hybrid detailed but new hybrid tech won’t be seen till next-gen model


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29 Sep 2014

KIA has unveiled its diesel-electric Optima T-Hybrid concept on the eve of the Paris motor show this week, presenting the first application of its new diesel-electric hybrid powertrain.

The South Korean brand is remaining silent for now on when the fuel-saving powertrain will enter production, but its emergence in the Optima is significant and GoAuto understands that the forthcoming new-generation model – set to be revealed in the coming months ahead of its international launch in the second half of next year – will feature the new technology.

The ‘mild’ hybrid powertrain combines a 1.7-litre CRDi turbo-diesel engine with an electric motor and 48-volt lead-carbon battery pack to boost power by 15 to 20 per cent while cutting fuel consumption and emissions. In non-hybrid guise, the 1.7-litre unit currently emits 128g/km.

Kia says it chose lead-carbon batteries as they do not require cooling like lithium-ion batteries do, and are easier to recycle at the end of their lifecycle.

The technology was first showcased at the Geneva motor show earlier this year and allows the T-Hybrid to drive in electric-only mode when travelling at low speeds or cruising. The battery pack is recharged during deceleration.

Other technology built into the Optima T-Hybrid includes a “zero-emissions” idle-stop system and a new belt-driven starter generator that replaces a conventional alternator and allows the car to restart with almost no noise or vibration.

Kia says a smaller vehicle battery and starter motor enhance handling and weight distribution, while an electric supercharger works in conjunction with the regular turbo to boost torque and engine response at low speeds.

Kia Motors Australia general manager of media and corporate communications Kevin Hepworth said this week that hybrid powertrains were still to be confirmed for the Australian market, but emphasised that hybrid technology was “definitely on the table” for future models.

The Australian subsidiary’s chief operating officer Damien Meredith also said in July that a hybrid Optima was “certainly in our plan”.

Kia currently offers a petrol-electric hybrid version of the Optima in various markets overseas, including the United States, but despite an ongoing business case it has never made it to Australia.

Mr Hepworth said that different countries will opt for the powertrain that best suits the market, with the US likely to continue with the petrol-electric unit while Europe would almost certainly choose the diesel.

If the next-generation Optima is launched in Australia with a hybrid powertrain onboard, it would rival the Toyota Camry Hybrid and frugal diesel variants from a variety of competitors.

There is currently not much competition in the mid-size segment for hybrid models, however Honda Australia has said it is keen to introduce the petrol-electric Accord if it can satisfy a business case and come in at the right price for the market.

Ford offers a hybrid version of its US Fusion – which will arrive here next year as the Mondeo – while Volkswagen has confirmed a plug-in hybrid for its next-generation Passat. Chevrolet also has the Malibu Eco in the US, but this model is unlikely to make it to Australia with Holden badges anytime soon.

Kia Motors Europe chief operating officer Michael Cole said the new diesel hybrid technology helps reduce the cost of ownership of a car and will also have an impact on the Korean brand’s overall fleet emissions “In future, our mild hybrid powertrain could offer Kia customers greater performance and lower running costs, without sacrificing the qualities they expect of a Kia car – enjoyable handling, a comfortable ride and high quality,” he said.

“Demonstrated for the first time in the Optima T-Hybrid, the technology will lower the total cost of ownership of our cars, yet still keep them affordable as an outright purchase for customers.

“The new mild hybrid system is our flagship technology for improving the efficiency of our internal combustion-powered models. In future, technology such as this will help Kia further reduce fleet emissions in Europe.”

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