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First look: Kia adds sting with Ray

Short back and sides: Kia has provided this drawing of its Ray concept car.

Ray concept heralds first Kia plug-in as Korean maker shapes up for bumper 2010

25 Jan 2010

KIA has previewed what could become its first plug-in hybrid vehicle in the shape of the Ray, a sleek US designed sports concept revealed in an official rendering late last week.

Due to be officially unveiled at the Chicago motor show on February 11, the Ray appears to be a four-door ‘coupe’ with a low-slung profile, steeply raked front and rear glass, heavily flared wheel-arches and Maserati-style rear lighting wrapped around an abruptly chopped rear-end.

The rejuvenated Korean brand, whose Australian sales were stronger than the industry average in 2009 at -1.3 per cent, says the Ray is designed to “demonstrate how Kia’s evolving design direction would be applied in the packaging of a plug-in hybrid vehicle”.

Designed by the Kia Design Centre America, the Ray is part of Kia’s ongoing alternative-fuel vehicle development program, which includes “potentially real-life” fuel-cell vehicle and various hybrid vehicles “providing real-world data in various locations”.

17 center image Top: Kia Magentis. Centre: Kia Rio. Below: New Kia Sportage.

Significantly, Kia says it plans to commercialise Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) hybrid vehicles in Korea within the next 12 months, presumably employing the same technology as the Cerato (Forte) LPI Hybrid and sister company Hyundai’s Elantra LPI Hybrid.

While Hyundai has ruled out a business case for the Elantra LPI for Australia – at least for now - Kia is yet to announce the local fate of the Cerato LPI, two left-hand drive Korean-specification examples of which were entered for last October's Darwin-Adelaide Global Green Challenge.

Confirmed for Australia in 2010, however, are three important model upgrades, a key new model derivative and two complete redesigns, led by Kia’s all-new compact SUV contender, the Sportage.

Due on sale here in mid-2010, the next Sportage shares its platform with Hyundai’s upmarket new ix35 Tucson replacement, and should brandish its sister model’s 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines – both mated to six-speed transmissions.

Preceding the new Sportage this year is the updated Rio light-car featuring an upgraded interior and new corporate grille. Already on sale, the freshened Rio gains a minor update before being replaced by a third-generation model in 2011. Rio sales were 17 per cent down in 2009, when just 8500 examples were sold.

Kia’s next 2010 release will be that of the facelifted Grand Carnival people-mover in April, followed by the five-door hatchback version of the new Cerato and a replacement for Kia’s slow-selling Magentis medium sedan – both in the third quarter.

While a new 200kW petrol V6 is also expected to join Kia’s new mid-size Sorento SUV range later this year, the Cerato hatch – powered by the same 115kW 2.0-litre engine that makes the four-door the most powerful model in its class – should significantly bolster the new TD Cerato’s model range.

Without the selling power of a hatchback, sales of the Cerato – the first Kia model to be overseen by global design chief Peter Schreyer - were up a massive 55 per cent in Australia last year.

A further 215 Australians bought the Cerato Koup – Kia’s first two-door model – after its late-2009 launch. The Cerato hatch’s release is expected coincide with a range-wide update for the Cerato’s interior and running gear.

Finally for this year, Kia’s Magentis replacement should emerge by October with new Schreyer styling and the same 150kW Theta II 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as Hyundai’s Sonata replacement, upon which Kia’s third-generation medium sedan will be based. Magentis sales were 40 per cent down in 2009.

Kia Motors Australia hopes the early release of its updated volume-seller and increased brand awareness from its parent company’s major sponsorship of this month’s 105th Australian Open tennis tournament will continue the sales drive that commenced in 2009 – which Kia describes as its turnaround year.

KMA provided 101 Kia courtesy vehicles - mostly Carnivals – for the Australian Open, which ends on January 31. Kia Motors’ naming-rights sponsorship of the event ends of 2013.

What’s coming from Kia in 2010:
Rio MY10 update January
Grand Carnival facelift April
Sportage redesign mid-2010
Cerato hatch September
Magentis replacement September
Sorento V6 petrol October

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